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Achilles’ heel: A weak or vulnerable factor. From the legend of Greek hero Achilles, who had one vulnerable part of his body, his heel. As an infant, his mother had held him by one heel to dip him in the River Styx to make him invulnerable.

Wordsmith: A word expert who uses language very well

Wordsmith with an Achilles’ heel: Someone who has to check yet again if well or good is the correct word to use in the previous definition

Take a look at what Shenouda employee Donna Muldoon learned from a recent informal and unscientific study of colleagues and their Achilles’ heels.

The rules, they are a changing

In the survey, colleagues noted that once-standard rules have changed, making it necessary to research and confirm they are using the most recent format. For example, some businesses are still unaware that double spaces after a period or full stop are no longer the standard. A change that is more jarring for those who focus on grammar is the more recent revision to the singular subject and plural verb agreement format. It is now common to see variations of “Each owner should have their own copy of the lease.” Through use, and supported by guides such as the APA Style Blog, the new format is becoming acceptable.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Even wordsmiths who adeptly manage sentence structure sometimes hesitate when it comes to basic English grammar issues. Writers in the survey gave examples that cause them to rethink what they wrote. Is it that or which? Alternative or alternate? Since or because? On site or on-site or onsite? More than one writer found it necessary to look up when compound adjectives or prefixes take a hyphen. Some writers keep their own customized reference sheet to solve nagging, recurring wordsmithing questions.

While good spelling is common among writers and editors, specific words were an Achilles’ heel nevertheless. Condolences tripped up one writer, license another. An editor who often reviewed documents in both American and British English, would begin to lose focus on which version of fulfill/fulfil, practice/practise, aging/ageing, or program/programme to use. There was also a tendency among writers to watch for repetitive use of certain words, such as so or but. A technical writer who wrote with a controlled language that specified words could only be used in their approved category of noun, verb, or adjective found difficulty writing more creative, less restrictive marketing content. Read More

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Over many years, all of us at Shenouda Associates Inc. have researched, written, edited, and published hundreds (maybe even more) of works both large and small. For us, attention to detail is more than chic or fashionable. It is de rigueur—necessary, required, and proper. Shenouda team member, Donna Muldoon, knows a thing or two about guides to stylish writing. Here is her take on the subject.

Of all the tools that a writer employs, a style guide may be the most used, most reliable, and most important in the day-to-day work of that writer. A style guide that is well organized, complete, and easy to use can save a writer the time and frustration of continually looking up information.

Just as an encyclopedia is a reference source that provides information that can be found in several other sources, a style guide can also act as a compendium of much of the information needed by a writer. A style guide is part Bible, part cookbook, part dictionary, part game rule book, and part fashion magazine. Like the Bible, a style guide proclaims what you shall and shall not do. As a cookbook, it outlines the recipes for font, color, dimensions, and icon usage. It serves as a shortcut dictionary for both common and product-specific words. Like a game rule book, a style guide can make referee-type decisions by reinforcing legal and corporate standards in matters of dispute. And the fashion magazine aspect is characterized through guidelines on tone, voice, and the presentation of content.

The main purpose of a style guide is to provide uniform, consistent standards throughout a group—whether it is a company, a field, a community, or a publication. The standards can form a unified voice and appearance that create a single brand image for all content creation including web pages, video, and marketing collateral. But most importantly, it ensures that multiple writers, contributors, and editors write with a common consistency.

So many options

There are several well-known commercial style guides such as the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the newly updated Microsoft Writing Style Guide. These are acknowledged sources of editorial guidance used and approved by various writing communities. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to use clear governmental communication that the public can understand and use. The U.S. government website (www.plainlanguage.gov) includes excellent general writing advice, including addressing your audience, using concise language, attending to visual design, and testing your content.

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