Archive for the ‘Styles’ Category


Dealing with ‘Properties of Materials’

February 12, 2015

A few months ago ‘S’ asked about the heading ‘Properties of Materials’ and wondered if it should be ‘Material Properties’ or ‘Materials Properties’ instead. Her colleague had said both alternatives were incorrect (I agree), and should be either ‘Material Properties’ OR ‘Material’s Properties’ (if only one material; ‘Materials’ Properties’ if more than one). She also wondered about a related table caption: ‘Carbon Steel and Cladding Material Properties’.

My response

In my opinion, these heading variations sound awkward, so the original ‘Properties of Materials’ is likely the best (I couldn’t find any dictionary or style guide advice to support this opinion, just my gut feeling about the original phrase’s ‘understandability’). Usually, I’d avoid ‘XXX of YYY’ and change it to ‘YYY’s XXX’, but for S’s example I would keep the ‘XXX of YYY’ construction as it’s much clearer to the reader.

Another possibility is to avoid ‘Materials’ altogether and just use ‘Properties’, or be specific as to the type of properties (see the mini table of contents on this Wikipedia page for examples:, or use a synonym (however, don’t change it to ‘Materials’ Characteristics’ otherwise you’ll have a whole slew of sibilants your reader has to deal with).

As far as the table caption goes, consider deleting ‘Material’ from it; ‘Material’ is already implied based on the heading and the preceding text.

Bottom line: Ultimately you are writing for whomever is reading the document, so your aim is to keep your words as plain, simple, and—most importantly—as unambiguous as possible. Don’t force the reader into a situation where they have to stop reading to figure out the meaning.

(By the way, a Google search gave me 17 million hits for ‘Properties of Materials’ and only 300,000 for ‘Material Properties’, in case that matters.)

[Link last checked February 2015]


Children suck

January 6, 2015

Or at least, that’s what this sign says. Spotted in my local medical surgery near the children’s play area.


I think they meant to tell parents to put any toys into the bin that their children have put into their mouths or that they have dirtied.

It might have been better to avoid ‘dirty’ and ‘suck’ (especially the unfortunately worded ‘children suck’) and instead used wording similar to this: ‘For used play area toys. Please put play area toys used by your children into this bin.’


Plural vs possessive – it’s not hard

November 24, 2014

<sigh> Another example of a professionally created sign that gets it wrong. PLURALS DON’T HAVE APOSTROPHES (in the main). It’s not hard.

There were at least three levels of human error here — the person who commissioned the sign and/or sent the copy to the signwriter, the signwriter, and the person who OK’d the finished sign as suitable for going up in the Albuquerque Airport. ATMs… not ATM’s.



Yep, punctuation matters

September 19, 2014

Seen in my Twitter feed yesterday — an announcement from the company hosting a conference that a session is underway:

punctuation_mattersUnfortunately, without quote marks or other identifying embellishments such as bold or italics, the message is not to get stuck in the localization Bermuda Triangle with Susie Winn! I’m sure she’s very nice, but I’m also sure that isn’t the message they intended.

Yes, punctuation matters. Why? Because it removes ambiguity and prevents misinterpretation.

See also:

[Link last checked September 2014]


Plurals don’t take apostrophes — it’s not that hard

August 21, 2014


I was wandering in a Target store the other day and spotted some egregious apostrophe errors in the paid-for-and-no-doubt-very-expensive signage. Here’s one:


They had no apostrophes in ‘Books’ or ‘Paperbacks’ (which is correct as they are plural forms), but somehow had thought it was necessary to add apostrophes to CDs and DVDs, which are also plurals. The error was bad enough, but the inconsistency was just as annoying.

Further along in the store they had ‘Womens’ and ‘Mens’ as well as ‘Women’s Clothing’. ‘Women’s Clothing’ is correct — the clothing belonging to or for the women, but ‘Womens’ and ‘Mens’ is NEVER correct — you can’t pluralize (if that’s a word!) a plural. The plural of ‘woman’ is ‘women’ and of ‘man’ is ‘men’, so you can only ever have ‘Women’s’ and ‘Men’s’ when they are adjectives (or perhaps implied adjectives as in ‘Women’s Clothing’); otherwise it has to be ‘Women’ or ‘Men’. Never ‘Womens’ or ‘Mens’.

Basic rules:

  • Plural form — add an -s or an -ies as appropriate; NO apostrophe
  • Possessive form — add an ‘s (or just an apostrophe in the case of words already ending in s)

Yes, there are some minor exceptions to these basic rules, but for most cases, these rules apply.


Blue carrots? Editor required!

July 30, 2014

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently. Examples include:

  • they’re, their, and there
  • to, two, and too
  • raise, raze, and rays.

And then there’s carat, caret, and carrot:

  • ‘Carat’ is a measure of mass, and is typically associated with gemstones such as diamonds.
  • A ‘caret’ is an inverted ‘V’ character: ^. The other ‘V’ characters on the keyboard are known as angle brackets or ‘chevrons’ and look like this: < and >
  • And a ‘carrot’ is a root vegetable, typically orange (though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist too).

A good editor will know which word to use in which context, or, if in doubt, will check a dictionary to find out.

Which brings me to a PowerPoint presentation about some software being rolled out to tens of thousands of staff in a very large global company. In the PowerPoint presentation was this gem:

carrots Not only was the incorrect spelling used, but the incorrect word was used too. That symbol (which I’ve seen called all sorts of things, but NEVER a caret—let alone a carrot!) is sometimes known as a right arrow or a ‘chevron’ or an expand icon, or a ‘more information’ button.

Not a caret, and certainly not a blue carrot!


Apostrophe abuse

July 27, 2014

Seen at my local shopping centre…

There’s ONE apostrophe on this sticker — there should be three — and it’s not even in the right place! How can they get it SO wrong?


(And if you’re not sure where all the apostrophes all go, it should read: “This is not my boyfriend’s car… it’s my Dad’s”. Also, instead of abbreviating “boyfriend” to “b’friend” to save space it would have been better to abbreviate “is not’ to “isn’t”, but I guess they didn’t know where to put the apostrophe!)