Your Product/Service Names: Keeping Proper Nouns Proper

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but it sure does confuse the gardeners. Standard names for products and services are essential for any business. It’s easy for a product name to slide from FAST Dataset to FAST Data Sets to FASTData but your customers will wonder if they are receiving one product or three.

A name, a proper noun, indicates a specific person, place or thing (TWP Marketing & Technical Communications versus marketing and technical communications companies in general). Whether or not you have trademarked your company’s products and services, you should spell and capitalize their names consistently.

When your product or service includes a keyword (such as marketing ) that appears frequently in your content, you should lower-case the word when it is not a proper noun (part of the official name). For example, “TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing and technical content for customers.” Capitalizing “technical content” would imply a product or service name rather than generic words.

Here’s a sample paragraph with too many capitals: Like Bolding and Italics, constant Capitals lose their effect. If every Noun is an upper case Noun, then how is anyone to distinguish Your Proprietary Company Name, Products and Services from every other Generic Object in the World? If Everything is Capitalized, what is important and what isn’t?

Acronyms are another source of random capitalization. You do not need to capitalize every word that is the basis for an acronym. For example, take the FAST Dataset (FDS) product. The word “dataset” should not be capitalized in a sentence like this: “all your datasets (DS) are re-organized.” Even though DS is an acronym in both cases, in the first case it is the acronym for a proper noun (FAST Dataset); in the second case, it is the acronym for a generic noun (“datasets”).

Even if the use and misuse of capitals seems nitpicky, you have to look at your content from the user’s viewpoint. Capitals are a reading clue; they alert readers to the start of a new sentence, a proper noun, an acronym or an important concept (FREE!). When capitals are misused or overused, they become an annoyance. They lose their status as clues, directing the reader’s eye to the information you want them to remember.


Bad Writing: Is It Just Me?

A while ago, I posted two blogs on grammar rules that I personally felt could or could not be broken. They inspired some lively conversation, including a comment that bad grammar wasn’t half as annoying as bad spelling. So now I’m throwing the discussion open to some of my pet peeves: do these bother anyone else?

  • The use of texting shorthand everywhere. Okay, I know the future will make desktop computers and laptops disappear and we will all use infinitesimally small keyboards to communicate, but it annoys me when someone is corresponding with me using lower case “I” for the first person singular, abbreviations like “np” and other texting shorthand. Does it annoy you?
  • The roaming apostrophe. There is no such word as its’. The possessive is usually made by ‘s, not s’ (one exception is for a noun that ends in s, like Jones: the Jones’ dog). No apostrophe is needed for plurals (so it is wrong to say: the musicians’ played all night). Does the roaming apostrophe annoy you?
  • Random capitalization. There is no need to capitalize every word when you spell out an acronym, just because the acronym uses capital letters. Save capitalization for proper names and titles. So for a specific name like the Search Engine Company, Inc. (SECI), capitalization is correct; but for a generic phrase like search engine optimization (SEO), capitalization is wrong. Does overcapitalization drive you crazy?
  • Misspellings based on sound or created by an electronic spellchecker. Are you sure you meant lead and not led? County and not country? Sensor or censor or censer or censure? Spellcheckers are notorious for not picking up on simple substitutions so manual proofreading is always necessary. Spellcheckers are also likely to change a perfectly good word into another word simply because they don’t recognize the good word, a major drawback in writing that uses a lot of technical or obscure terms. And never forget to turn to your dictionary if you have any doubt at all about compliment versus complement or phase versus faze. Are mistakes like these your pet peeve?

The advantage of having pet peeves is alertness and consistency: I am alert for roaming apostrophes and common misspellings and consistent in avoiding overcapitalization and texting shorthand. If no one on your team is looking out for mistakes that might annoy your customers and reduce the effectiveness of your message, contact me at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I’ll make sure your writing communicates clearly and correctly.

Grammar Sticklers: What You Do Need to Worry About

My next blog will focus on grammar rules that have become more relaxed over the years but this blog lists a few rules of grammar that you break at peril. What is the peril? Misunderstandings, confusion, and an appearance of sloppiness that customers may feel indicates your overall quality of work.

Parallel construction is important. Parallel construction straightens out sentences like: “We create beautiful cabinets and installation.” Parallel construction demands two verbs, not a verb and a noun, on either side of the “and”: “We create beautiful cabinets and install them.” As a general rule, if your sentence contains an “and,” “but,” “or,” “nor,” or “yet,” you need parallel construction. Items on lists should also be parallel; for example, each item might begin with a verb rather than a mixture of nouns, verbs, prepositions, and articles.

Another important grammar rule is that of agreement between subject and verb: a plural subject (companies) takes a plural verb (succeed) and a singular subject (the company) takes a singular verb (succeeds). Electronic grammar checkers should never ever be trusted on issues of verb agreement. In fact, these days, whenever I see a disagreement between subject and verb, I can bet that an electronic grammar checker is to blame.

Although other grammar rules are important, the last item I’ll address is one I see constantly: overcapitalization. While acronyms are capitalized, the words they stand for are usually not capitalized. For example, HMI is an acronym for the generic term human/machine interface. There is no need to capital “human” or “machine” or “interface.” In fact, capitals should only be used for proper nouns: the names of specific people, companies, countries, books, boats, laws, religions, etc.

The use of capitals for emphasis is a lost cause from the start. If you capitalize everything, then nothing is important. Save capitals for the name of your company and its products. Those are the words you want readers to remember.

If concerns about grammar make writing stressful for you, please contact me. I’ll be glad to help.