Archive for November, 2013

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Various useful websites related to writing

November 20, 2013

In my travels on the internet I find some interesting stuff about writing. You may find some of these useful.

Most of these websites are from the US, so some of the conventions used in Australia where I live may differ a little, but the principles will still apply.

[Links last checked November 2013]

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False advertising to suck you in

November 15, 2013

Yes, Qantas, I’m look squarely at you! Qantas are notorious for putting out what appear to be good deals on partner hotels etc. until you actually try to find and book the rates on offer.

I got this teaser in a Frequent Flyer email from them the other day:

qantas01I’ve previously stayed in a couple of Stamford hotels in Sydney, and this coming February I’ll be staying at the Sydney Airport one again. You could stay in worse places…

So I thought I’d check out whether the deals on offer were better than what I already had. (Ultimately, this was irrelevant as my February 2014 booking is prepaid, with a 100% loss of money if I cancel.)

I clicked the ad in the email and got this (click on a image to see it larger):

qantas02

Anyone see that magic $135 a night teaser rate anywhere? Nope. Me neither.

Being a persistent sort who hates being lied to, I decided to see if that teaser rate was hidden behind one of the boxes, and clicked on the $219 box for the Stamford Plaza at Sydney Airport.

The ‘best rate’ was less than $219 at $217, but nowhere near the $135 ‘let’s suck you in’ rate, and the rates just went up from there:

qantas03

I said I was persistent, so I clicked on the $217 ‘View’ button to see what was hidden beneath, and found the rates for most days of the Australian summer (Dec 1 to Feb 28). Take a look at those numbers… I highlighted anything above $217 in red, and highlighted the $217 rate (or less) in green. Of the three months, only 19 nights are at $217, and a further seven nights are at the LOWEST rate of $206! For more than two months, the rate is higher — in some cases much higher — than the ‘best rate’ of $217.

qantas04Now I was intrigued… was there a $135 a night rate to be found ANYWHERE?

After a lot of clicking and scanning rates, I found some rooms for some dates at $135 a night — but ONLY at the North Ryde, Sydney hotel. By the way, North Ryde is an awfully long way from the centre of Sydney or the airport, so unless you really needed to be there for a specific purpose such as work this would never be a good option as the time and cost of getting anywhere would negate any benefit of the cheaper room rate.

The Adelaide Stamford Plaza had a couple of nights at $139 and $141, but mostly the rates for all hotels in all locations was well over $200 a night.

So, the teaser rate on the Qantas email didn’t actually lie as there is ONE hotel that has SOME rooms for SOME days at the $135 rate, but I still think this is false advertising when 95% or more of the room rates across the Stamford brand for the summer period are well above $135. I call it false advertising, even though I know it is an accepted practice to lure potential customers with a cheap rate, then disappoint them by having so few of those rates on offer (and usually not in places where you might be going).

(As an aside, the $195 prepaid rate I paid in June 2013 for the Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport date in Feb 2014 is looking good…)

One final thing… For those in the US, these sorts of prices are typical for 4+star hotels in Australian cities; in fact, they are much higher in some cities. For the same amenities (and in some cases more, such as free internet, breakfast, and evening snacks), I can stay in the US for around $100 to $150 a night.

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Company is/Company are

November 11, 2013

Based on a writing tip I recently sent to my work colleagues. I substituted ‘Acme’ for the company’s real name. And note that this post uses Australian English spelling and refers to Australian authorities, as we are based in Australia writing for an Australian audience. If you’re not in Australia, I think you can deal with that ;-)

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This writing tip was prompted by a question Stuart asked:

Could you address the issue of a business entity – do you treat it as being singular or plural? For example ‘Acme is organising a charity fun run’ or ‘Acme are organising a charity fun run’. I see more and more instances of people using the latter. From my high school grammar, I recall the former being correct.

I thought the answer would be easy, but it’s not. In fact, there is no right answer. So many factors come into play, particularly whether you learnt American English or British English, but also whether you are implicitly referring to the people inside the entity or just to the entity itself. In addition to whether the entity (a collective or group noun) is singular or plural and thus which verb it takes, there’s a side issue of whether you can refer to the entity as a ‘who’ or a ‘that/it’. As I said, it’s complicated…

From my research into this, I found:

  • The Australian Style Manual (p71) says: ‘While either singular or plural agreement is grammatically correct, the singular is recommended for Commonwealth [of Australia] publications—both for consistency, and to present a cohesive image in reference to government bodies and activities.’ My comment: Based on that, you would use ‘… the Department of XXX is…’, and extrapolating from that, you would use ‘Acme is…’
  • Macquarie Dictionary has this under ‘collective noun’: ‘It is possible to treat collective nouns as singulars or plurals depending on whether the sense of unity or the sense of plurality is uppermost in the mind of the writer. Thus thinking of a team, we can say Australia is batting first or, thinking of the players, Australia are batting first.’ My comment: Macquarie suggests that it depends on what the writer is thinking, not on what the reader might be thinking.
  • British English prefers that a collective noun is treated as a plural and thus it takes the plural verb form, therefore ‘Acme are…’. Conversely, American English treats a collective noun as singular and thus it takes the singular verb form (i.e. ‘Acme is…’). My comment: As Australians, we’re sort of stuck in the middle—our exposure to American English is quite high (through the media and because our parent company is based in the US), and we tend to be more informal in speech than the more traditional British English. Our Australian style guides and dictionaries tend to have a bet each way and often don’t give clear guidance.

One of the issues is that entities such as companies don’t ‘do’ things—it’s the people inside them who take actions. Implicit in many phrases like ‘Acme is/are…’ is that you’re really referring to the people inside the organisation who are making the decisions, taking the actions, making the things, doing the stuff, etc. But we typically don’t use phraseology like ‘The staff of Acme is/are…’ and instead we just substitute the entity’s name without explicitly mentioning the people.

About ‘who’ versus ‘that’: One school of thought is that a legal entity such as a company is not a person [Update July 2014:  The US Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby seems to turn that over], so it cannot take ‘who’ and therefore must take ‘that’ or ‘it’. See the references below for more on this.

Bottom line: This is no ‘right’ answer. Language and its usage evolves over time and across geographic areas, sometimes very quickly. What sounds right to one person may well sound wrong to another, even if they were educated under the same system but a few years apart. The main thing is to be consistent WITHIN your document, no matter which variation you choose to use.

(And because you want to know my preference, it would be ‘Acme is…’ as that construction sounds better to my ear—and it follows the advice of the Australian Style Manual. Of course, I might try to reword the sentence to avoid the issue altogether ;-) )

More on this:

[Links last checked November 2013]