Another Boring Work Blog

A rolling list of work on the desk of David Thame, freelance writer on commercial property, retail, regeneration and regional economics. The hope is that PR people find it useful.

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Style Guide - back by popular demand

A trip down nostalgia lane for some of you: the famous style guide, reposted from 2008 but back by popular demand. If you quote or use this casually, please acknowledge where it came from. If you plan to reprint or use in any other way then we'll need to talk first...

Some thoughts on expressions and approaches to avoid: there are excellent style guides available. See and, very comprehensive,

You might want to add to - and develop - this list of do’s and don’ts, sharing good practise and stamping firmly on silliness and ugliness. It can be fun (of a kind….)

* Heads up. “Bruntwood is joined by Fiona Frankly, who will head up the property management team…” Heads will do perfectly well - if she can’t just run or lead - because the up achieves nothing. It is one of a bewildering list off redundant accessory words which now seem popular - for instance, TV chefs don’t just fry things, they fry them off, cut backs appear where cuts are happening, and too many people meet up rather than simply meet. Avoid all such redundancies.

* Very. Nothing is ever very. It’s very wrong.

* Going forwards. As opposed to going backwards? Another redundant and lazy expression.

* Major, important, leading, key, strategic, prime. All to be avoided. Rather than larding a press release with words to the effect that something is major, important, key, strategic, or whatever, remember that it is much more impressive to explain in plain sensible English why it matters.

* Unique. It almost certainly isn’t.

* Locate, location, relocate, relocation. Especially when twinned with “strategic” these words are horrors. Move is a nice simple unflashy alternative. Simple words are always best.

* Please don’t bother with “branding” in the body of the text. So not Fortyspringgardens (one word) simply because someone somewhere has dreamed that up as branding - nor AMEC (instead of Amec) or adidas (instead of Adidas) or bmi british midland for BMI British Midland. It’s not the job of any publication to violate the language to help someone’s marketing strategy.

* Track record. Unless you are describing an athlete or a greyhound, avoid. If a sentence threatens to include “track record” it is probably worth cutting that sentence out because it's almost certainly a load of space-filling time-wasting guff.

* Don't play around with quantities. In other words if your client has completed 24 projects say "24 projects" not "nearly 25 projects" or "more than 20 projects". The phrase "more than" is only (only) applicable if the amount "more than" is very small compared with the original number, for instance: more than £1m is acceptable if the price paid is actually £1,001,000. But if the price was £1.1m then say so.

* Announced, revealed, confirmed. All nasty words. Nothing is confirmed unless we have been entertaining some well-known doubts about it - it is not a synonym for announce. Nothing is revealed unless it was previously hidden and it is not a word anyone should use about themselves - we have expressions in English for people who reveal too much too quickly about themselves, and they are generally not polite. Announce is something government ministers are always telling us they are doing, in the present tense, e.g. “today I am announcing” or “I can announce…”. Meant to sound dramatic and official (like reveal, and confirm) but in fact just a piece of showmanship. Best to forget all three words. Instead, just say what you have to say and be done with it.

* On and at. A site is AT Piccadilly (an area) or AT London Road (a street). It isn’t on them - flags are on buildings, but places are at addresses.

*On and to. “Fiona Frankly will now sit on the board at Bruntwood Ltd”. If she is particularly decorative, and the board can take her weight, then maybe - better would be “Fiona Frankly has been appointed to the board at Bruntwood Ltd”

* Congratulations. Oh please, please spare me quotes like this: Norman Halfwit, director at Idiot Developments, said: “I’m delighted to welcome Sh!t Marketing as our fourth tenant.” Suzy Blonde, director at Sh!t, said: “We’re so happy to bring our expanding business to an Idiot Developments scheme.” Not only is Sh!t a silly brand name I won’t use - but the quotes add nothing. The day the developer says: “This is a tawdry little scheme and we’re very surprised to see some one daft enough to pay our exorbitant rent” and the tenant says “Our overdraft is staggering and I have these terrible headaches all the time, so we thought what the hell,” is the day I start to use quotes like these….. If it’s just a little story then a little unpretentious (brief) press release will do nicely, thanks. Don’t fabricate daft self-congratulatory quotes.

* Company designations. The suffixes “Plc” "LLP" and "Ltd" should be used if they are helpful, not if they are not. For instance, if it refers to a dividend, annual report, merger or shareholder meeting. If it’s just a bit of random fastidiousness it should be struck out. These are news stories, not legal documents.

* Adjectives. Best avoided unless incontestably true, especially since they are almost always either exhausted old warhorses (prime, prestigious, buoyant) that will never, ever, find their way into copy I’m writing - or simply misleading and wrong. I’m afraid an office block in Bury or an industrial unit in Stockport is never - will never be - prestigious. And anyone who can’t think of a better way to describe a busy market than to call it “bouyant” should be invited to check a thesaurus.

* Adverbs. See adjectives.

* Exciting. It isn’t.

* Joint sole agents. A sole agent is alone, a joint agent has company. A contradiction in terms well worth avoiding.

* Picture captions. Captions like the following are absolutely not acceptable - pictures get junked, and art editors have hysterics, if the are used: "Four members of the Idiot Developments team" or "Sally Blonde (centre) and the winning team" or "The new recruits at Sh!t Marketing". What's wrong with all of these is a failure to comply with this simple rule: YOU MUST IDENTIY EVERYONE IN A PICTURE, BY NAME, LEFT TO RIGHT.

* Says and said. In features people say things, in news stories things were said. Features present tense, news past tense.

* Always use English, not Latin. This may sound obvious - but the house style of all but the silliest publications insists you use English words, rather than the Latin alternatives, if you can. So it's never "per sq ft" (per is Latin), which should be replaced with "a sq ft", and likewise it's never "etc" but use instead "and so on." I.e. and e.g are replaced with "for instance" or "for example".

* Don’t use full stops if you can avoid them. For instance sq ft and not sq. ft. or, worse still, sq.ft. (without a space). Similarly, it’s Mr, Mrs, Dr etc.

* Never use superscript or subscript. So its 10 sq ft and not 10 ft2.

* Use capitals with care. It is never Director of Marketing, only director of marketing. A development is not a Development. The tax partner is not the Tax Partner. Nobody signs Contracts, only contracts.