Archive for February, 2013


Well, hello there!

February 26, 2013

I spent some time last weekend going through my Firefox bookmarks to see what’s still valid, what’s still relevant (to me), etc. and generally just doing a good clean-up of them.

One of the sites I went to had this:


The site says’ ‘Hi’??? Really? And ‘are being requested’? Sheesh.


Email etiquette at work

February 25, 2013

Based on a writing tip I wrote recently for my work colleagues.


Brad asked:

Do you have any information on etiquette/guidelines/best practise for emails, specifically when not to CC people who may have been on an original email? I see a lot of emails that start off as a simple one-way communication, i.e. not necessarily expecting a conversation, where people are CC’ed (managers or supervisors usually) that then escalates into a back and forth discussion, not necessarily in a bad way, but where all original participants are retained.

Good question, Brad.

Below I’ve compiled a list of etiquette rules for internal email that I gleaned from several websites that deal with this question (see the links at the end). I haven’t ranked them in any particular order, and I haven’t expanded too much on any of them as they should be self-explanatory (if you need more detail, see the links):

  • Begin with a simple greeting, and end with ‘Thanks’, ‘Regards’ or similar as well as your signature (set up an automated signature in Outlook 2007 by going to Tools > Options > Mail Format tab > Signatures button)
  • Make sure the subject line reflects the contents of the email
  • Be as concise as possible; use bullet points or short paragraphs, with just one idea per paragraph or bullet point
  • Ask permission before forwarding another person’s email
  • Reply in a timely fashion
  • Send personal emails from your PERSONAL account, not the company’s
  • All work email (even deleted mail) is the property of the company and is NOT private
  • Don’t send chain mail, forwards, hoaxes, jokes, or other unprofessional emails to your work colleagues (see link below for urban legends and hoaxes)
  • Before clicking ‘Send’, re-read your message and check the list of recipients. Check the recipients again – do they ALL need to get the email?
  • Don’t ‘Reply all’ out of habit – ‘Reply’ is usually sufficient; if you do ‘Reply all’, check the list of recipients first and delete those who don’t need the information
  • Delete any unwanted ‘threads’ in the email before replying  – only reply to what you’ve been asked; trim out the unnecessary bits of previous conversations
  • Don’t send huge attachments – link to the document or folder on the network instead; typically, you can’t attach files to an email that are more than about 5 MB in total
  • Use standard English and punctuation; use acronyms sparingly; avoid sarcasm and irony as they don’t translate well in words; avoid emoticons (smileys) and ‘text-speak’; curb your use of exclamation points
  • Use standard fonts, font sizes, colours, and sentence case
  • Use the CC line for those who need to get a copy of the email, but who aren’t the main recipient; use the BCC line for those whose email addresses you don’t want to disclose (don’t forget – assume that every email you send from the company account is NOT private, whether you use BCC or not); be judicious in who you add to the CC/BCC lists – not everyone has to see everything, and ‘reply all’ threads become very cumbersome
  • If you and the recipient are in a long email chain trying to get your message understood, pick up the phone and call them, or meet them face to face
  • Set up Inbox folders and learn how to use ‘rules’ to route emails into those folders (Tools > Rules and Alerts)

More information:

[Links last checked February 2013]


Word: Stop Word from auto capitalizing the first word of bullet items

February 21, 2013

Well, I didn’t think it was possible, but it is! You CAN stop Word from auto capitalizing the first word in a bullet list item, but there’s a trick to doing it.

By default, Word has the settings for Capitalize the first letter of sentences and Format the beginning of list item like the one before it turned on (in Word 2010, both settings are under File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options, on the AutoCorrect and AutoFormat As You Type tabs, respectively). Make sure these settings are both turned on. Yes, it seems strange to keep the Capitalize the first letter of sentences turned on, but you need this on for all you normal sentences. Unfortunately, Word considers any bullet list item to be a ‘sentence’ even if it’s not, and so it automatically capitalizes the initial letter of the first word. This is a real pain if your style guide says NOT to capitalize list items that are sentence fragments, single words etc.

So, how do you stop Word from auto capitalizing the first letter in each bullet item? You have to tell Word to undo what it’s just done, and then it will ‘remember’ that choice for subsequent items in the same bullet list. Bottom line: Ctrl+Z.

Here’s how:

  1. Type a lead-in sentence to a bullet list as normal (the first letter of the first word will automatically capitalize). Press Enter to go to the next line.
  2. Type the first word of the first bullet item in lower case and press the spacebar.
  3. Immediately after pressing the spacebar, press Ctrl+Z. This will undo the previous action (i.e. convert the automatically capitalized first letter back to a lower case letter).
  4. Continue adding words to the first list item, as required. Press Enter for the next item.
  5. Continue adding other bullet list items — each one should now start with a lower case letter.
  6. Apply the bullet style to your list, as required.
  7. Start typing the next paragraph. Notice that the first letter of the word is in lower case — you will have to manually change this one to upper case. It’s in lower case as it’s following the ‘follow formatting’ rule (and not 100% either!). But changing one lower case letter here is easier than changing many in a long list.

Unfortunately, this trick works for a single list sequence. Once you’ve switched back to the upper case letter for the start of the next paragraph, that setting will hold for the rest of the document unless you change it again. So, you’ll have to repeat the Ctrl+Z trick after the first word in any later bullet lists.   However, once you’ve got into the habit of doing it, it shouldn’t be hard to remember.

Other tips:

[Links last checked February 2013]


Word: Moving a table row quickly

February 18, 2013

Here’s a neat trick I learned from this post:

You can quickly move one or more table rows up or down a table by pressing Shift+Alt and either the up or down arrow key.

Who knew? That one was new to me, but I suspect I’ll use it quite a bit!


Quote marks: Singles or doubles?

February 13, 2013

Based on recent writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues, which was triggered by a question I received from one of them. I wanted to remind my authors about our style guide’s rules for using quote marks. Our corporate style guide follows the Australian Style Manual: For authors, editors and printers in most cases.


The question I was asked

Can you please confirm that quotation marks are only to be used when quoting someone and NOT when you are referring to a label or term, as in the example below?  Would you suggest just the underlining is sufficient or even just Capitals for the first letter of each word associated with the term?

…We define a “System” as an integrated set of elements/objects that perform function(s) to accomplish a defined objective.  The components and their interconnections comprise the architecture of the system.  A system is characterised by inputs and outputs and is bounded by constraints and requirements.

Systems Design” is the process of defining the architecture….

Systems Engineering” is an interdisciplinary field of engineering….

My response

Generally, quote marks (singles—not doubles—according to the Australian Style Manual) are used only for quotations:

‘Quotation marks … primary function is to show direct speech and the quoted work of other writers. Other uses are for enclosing the title of a song or an article in a periodical, and for drawing attention to a term that is unusual or recently coined.’ (Style Manual, p 112).

That last part indicates that they can be used to emphasise a term, as in your example. While your terms are not unusual or recently coined, they can be misinterpreted, so quote marks will make it clear that you are using these terms in a specific way. If you use quote marks, then change them to single quote marks and ONLY use them for the FIRST instance of each of those terms—not throughout the document.

If you want to avoid quote marks altogether, then:

  • avoid underlining as it can be confused with a hyperlink to a web page or another document.
  • avoid capital letters for anything that isn’t a proper noun (places, names etc. are proper nouns) or the first word in a sentence. So, in your example, the only time you would use ‘System’ with a capital ‘S’ is when it’s the first word in the sentence.
  • use bold OR italics for the words in question (though not both—that’s overkill, as is ‘Bold, Italic, Underlined, Capitalised, and Quoted’!).



Let’s update the update…

February 1, 2013



I highlighted in green the bit that had me shaking my head. And there are EIGHT variations of the word ‘update’ in this short message window. EIGHT! Sheesh.