Good grammar is like personal hygiene.
Adarsh Pandi is a developer who knows how to write great emails. He explains his technique in the curiously headlined Using Writing Smells to Refactor Your Email.
Pandi treats crafting emails like writing a piece of code. He starts by looking at the goals of an email which he says are:
- Get the reader to read the most important thing
- Get them to respond quickly or do something quickly
Then works to make them simple, easier to respond to and more likely to trigger an action.
He then works through a few details, such as keeping sentences short and simple. He effectively develops a simple version of what us old hands teach every young journalist when they first start writing.
A handful of companies like to see their names written entirely in upper case. Gigabyte and Asus are two that spring to mind, there are others.
Companies can do what they like. Journalists and editors shouldn’t use the upper case for these names.
We’re journalists, not brand managers
How Asus, Gigabyte or anyone else presents their company name in their own material is their affair. They have no right dictating how others treat their names.
If we gave in, it could be the thin end of the wedge. Next they will insist we print their names using a particular font or Pantone colour.
Breaking the rules
In written English proper nouns and the start of a sentence each get an initial capital letter. Think of them as signposts to help readers understand text.
Companies names are proper nouns. A single initial capital letter tells the reader that word is a name, not a description or verb.
Of course the fabric of our language doesn’t fall apart if we occasionally break the rules. Good writers do it all the time. On the other hand, communications would fail if people just wrote things how they pleased.
Upper-case letters often appear in the middle of product names like PageMaker.
This is not a good practice and not every publication goes along with it. For example, The Economist would change PageMaker to Pagemaker.
Sadly the mid-name-capital train has left the station. Spell checkers insist on the capital M in the middle of PageMaker. It would be hard and fruitless to campaign against this. I’ve given up that fight as there are more important battles elsewhere.
Apple’s iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad are also problems. Apple’s brand power is so strong even the mighty Economist gives ground on these brand names. Editors are confused about how to treat these words if they fall at the start of a sentence.
If iPad why not GIGABYTE?
Good point. It is a question of signposting.
A word written entirely in upper case disrupts reader comprehension. This is precisely why companies want their names written in capitals. They want their brand to leap out of the page even if it undermines the rest of the words.
For that reason alone, journalists should resist.
There’s another signposting reason. Writing words in capitals is reserved for acronyms and initialisms. Good editorial style demands initialisms that are pronounced as a word, not spoken as a string of letters, like Nato should be treated as ordinary words.
Writing a word like Gigabyte in capitals signposts it should be pronounced as a string of letters.
Online writing conventions say words written in capitals indicate shouting. Brands think having names in capitals is like shouting them out. Their goal is to maximise their brand exposure.
Our job is to ease the flow of information to the reader, putting roadblocks, any roadblocks, in the way is bad.
Capitals make text harder to read. Use too many and it becomes hard to spot the proper nouns and sentence starts.
Update: Signposting pronunciation
One point I missed when writing about brand names like iPhone, iPad and so on is they are pronounced as eye-phone, eye-pad. There’s a logic here that he lower case i followed by a pronounceable name signposts pronunciation.
Earlier today I wrote the following phrase using the noun Google as a verb:
people are far less likely to Google adjectives than nouns.
There’s no problem with using a noun as a verb in this way, people have “hoovered carpets” for years.
Maybe they googled adjectives or Hoovered carpets?
Google and Hoover are proper nouns requiring a capital. There’s no such thing as a proper verb, so should Google and Hoover take a capital when used as verbs?
I remember a regular supplement in the UK Press Gazette arguing exactly that: a company name used as a verb needs a capital. I’m not convinced.
A useful piece at the Columbia Journalism Review chewing over the difference between words like electric and electrical or historic and historical.
In A five-point guide to getting your tweets retweeted The New Scientist reports on, well, a scientific approach to successful tweeting.
Researchers at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany studied more than 60 million tweets and 4.5 million users to find what helps people decide to retweet.
The answers boil down to five tips:
- Punctuation matters. Tweets with exclamation marks were unlikely to be retweeted, but question marks help get messages retweeted.
- Accentuate the positive. Positive and negative words such as great or suck are likely to retweeted. Positive terms work better.
- But not with emoticons. On the other hand tweets with positive emoticons are less likely to be retweeted than those with negative ones.
- Relevant messages. People are more likely to retweet news or real information. What I had for breakfast messages are rarely relayed.
- Bad news travels faster than good. As every journalist knows, bad news sells. This is just as true on Twitter. People are much more likely to retweet bad news that good news.
As the comments on the New Scientist story point out, reaching the maximum audience of strangers isn’t a goal for most Twitter users.