10 Words that Can Hang You Up

This guest post is by Brenda Greene and Helen Cunningham, authors of “The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job.”

Whether you’re on the job or in the job market, writing effectively requires familiarity with the new words, phrases and usage rules that constantly enter the workplace.

Sometimes you’ll need to make judgments about how to write a new word because the language of business is always racing ahead. If you can’t find an answer in the dictionary or a stylebook, look to other authoritative sources, such as major publications and corporate websites, for direction. And, remember, in business writing, consistency is a priority. Writing website three different ways in a single communication makes it look unprofessional. It’s not that one version is right and the other is wrong; it’s a question of consistency. So make a choice and stick with it.

Here are our recommendations for writing 10 words that can hang you up in the workplace.

  • clickthrough. Write as one word when used as a noun or adjective. The site requires too many clickthroughs to find information. The web team is gathering metrics on the site’s clickthrough rates.
  • decision-maker, decision-making. Always write with a hyphen. The team’s top decision-maker is based in Hong Kong. The CEO demands timely decision-making from senior officers. The decision-making process involves too many people.
  • email, e-mail. It’s not a new word, but how to write it remains in flux. Write it with or without a hyphen; just be consistent. Our stylebook prefers no hyphen in all references.
  • game-changer, game-changing. Use a hyphen in all instances to avoid confusion. The acquisition has the potential to be an industry game-changer. The company rolled out another game-changing product.
  • Google. Capitalize when referring to the company, as in Last year, Google changed its privacy policy. Also capitalize when used in the verb forms, as in Google, Googling and Googled. The HR manager Googled the prospective employee.
  • IM, IMed, IMing. Use the short form in all references; stands for instant message/messaged/messaging.
  • LGBT. Use the initialism in all references if the audience is familiar with it; otherwise spell out in the first reference, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender; use LGBT afterward. The LGBT Committee announced the company would begin offering partner health benefits next year.
  • login, log in. One word when used as a noun, as in the username/password combination. My login expired last week. Two words when used as a verb. I will log in to the office system when I get home. (Same for logoff, log off.)
  • mashup, mash-up. Can be written as one word or with a hyphen. Our stylebook favors one word in all instances, whether used as a noun or adjective. Whichever version you choose, use it consistently. It means a mixture of content or elements. The report is a mashup of ideas from developers in Asia. The mashup report includes data and video content.
  • mouse over, mouseover. Write as two words when used as a verb, as in Mouse over the title of the song and click play. Write as one word when used as an adjective or noun, as in The mouseover text was highlighted in blue. He created a simple mouseover for the site.

What are some of the words that trip you up? Share them in the comments.

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  • Isabel

    This is very interesting.

    I have a question. When using a job title without a name is it capitalized or not? For example, nurse managers are seeking leadership development opportunities or Nurse Managers are seeking opportunities? I see in the examples above that HR is capitalized. If you used a name, would the title be capitalized, for exampe, Isabel Uibel, Director of Patient Care Services or not?

    Thank you.

    • Brenda Greene

      Your question is a good one, especially because so many business writers struggle with this. Most stylebooks, including The Business Style Handbook, recommend that you lowercase job titles, except when it’s an official title that precedes the name of the person. That means nurse managers would not be uppercase, nor would director of Patient Care (unless the title preceded the name, as in Director of Patient Care Isabel Uibel).

      The problem with this recommendation is that many companies ignore this style suggestion and instead uppercase all professional titles (as well as the names of departments [Human Resources]). The thing you have to determine is what your company style is (if it has a style preference). Once you establish the style, it’s important to remain consistent within a document, so if you capitalize Nurse Managers in one instance, make sure you do it in the next instance as well.

      Thanks for your comment and question.

      Co-author Brenda Greene

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