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Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Word About Creating a Bullet List

A bullet list is often a good way to present several important points without burying them in a wordy paragraph. It is important, when you create a bullet list, to make sure that all elements in the list are parallel--that is, they are all in the same format.
  • If one item in the bullet list is a complete sentence, then all items should be complete sentences.
  • If one item is a simple phrase, then all items should be simple phrases.
  • Notice in the examples below that, if the items are simple phrases, they DO NOT NEED capital letters or end punctuation (even on the last item).


Remember the following when creating company correspondence:

  • The preferred format is full block style with all items flush left.
  • Company letterhead should be used only for company business.
  • Business letters serve as documentation as well as communication.


The following salutations (greetings) are no longer appropriate:

  • Dear Sir:
  • Dear Sir or Madam:
  • Gentlemen:
  • Ladies and Gentlemen:
  • To Whom It May Concern:


When creating the date for a business letter, avoid the following:

  • military/genealogy style (27 March 2008)
  • abbreviations
  • slash and hyphen dates (3/27/08 or 3-27-08)

Notice that the introduction to each bullet list is followed by a colon. In Example #3, the items are not capitalized, and there is no end punctuation because they are phrases, not complete sentences. In Example #2, the capitalization and colons are part of the greetings being given as examples.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

AS MANY AS or AS MUCH AS--Figure It Out Before You Write!

Today's "gotcha" grammar glitch can be found on page 31 in the current issue of Mental Floss magazine. The article on the "looming Social Security disaster" is informative and good. However, the writer confused the agreement issue of when to use AS MUCH AS and when to use AS MANY AS when she said of the Great Depression:

As many as half of the elderly population was left penniless,...

AS MANY AS should be used to refer to things that can be counted (like people). It would take a plural verb (like "were").

AS MUCH AS should be used to refer to what I like to call "lump sum things" like laundry, salt, and money which, when referring to the lump sum, are not counted or viewed individually.

A word like "population" can be used either way, BUT if you put AS MANY AS in front of it, you are referring to "people," not a lump sum "population," and you must use a plural verb.

Therefore, the sentence in question should read as follows:

As many as half of the elderly population were left penniless,...

I hope as many of my readers as possible grasp (not "grasps") the point I'm making. As much as half of this column is (not "are") printed in green ink.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Even Abby thinks bad grammar sets a bad example and distracts!

This morning's Dear Abby advice column carries a letter from an English teacher in Austin, TX who observes that she never notices grammar and punctuation errors in letters to Dear Abby. The teacher asks, "Are the letters you publish revised, or are only the most literate and conscientious people moved to write to you?"

Abby responds that all of her readers are "conscientious" but that she and her staff try to correct errors before letters appear in print. I loved her answer about WHY:

"To perpetuate the errors by printing them would set a bad example or distract from the question being presented."

I hope all of you will take this advice to heart. You want your reader to remember WHAT you wrote, not the weird way you wrote it! So, make your goal for today to set a good example by writing clearly and well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

One person + one person = plural verb (even if they come AFTER the verb.

I recently reviewed an interesting new biography of Alabama Governor George Wallace and came across a sentence with a subject/verb agreement problem. How would you correct this one?

Among the notable African Americans serving in the administration was Hezekiah Wagstaff, assistant press secretary, and Delores Pickett, a one-time actress, as director of the Department of Minority Affairs.

There are two people in this sentence. Even though they both appear AFTER the verb, the verb still needs to be plural. It should read as follows:

Among the notable African Americans serving in the administration were Hezekiah Wagstaff,..., and Delores Pickett....

If that is too awkward for you, simply turn the sentence around:

Hezekiah Wagstaff, assistant press secretary, and Delores Pickett, director of the Department of Minority Affairs, were notable African Americans serving in the administration.

I'd leave the "one-time actress" comment out here. It isn't relevant to the point being made.

One person + One Person = Were (Even If