Uncurl Your Inch and Foot Marks

Quotation marks are not the same as inch and foot marks. 

Quotation marks are curly.

Inch and foot marks are straight.

The image below shows both straight and curly marks and their Windows, Mac, and HTML key commands.  

Image courtesy of Butterick’s Practical Typography.

A Simple Trick

In most word-processing apps, the smart quotes (curly) feature is automatically turned on.

Here’s an easy tip for changing curly marks to straight if you need inch or foot marks: Type the mark, then immediately hit the undo key command (command + z on a Mac; control + z on a Windows machine). This trick works in Word, Google Docs, and Pages.

Further Reading

Visit Butterick’s Practical Typography to learn more about the difference between curly and straight marks. 

Editing Tip: Always Read a Clean Copy After Tracking Changes

When you edit a document using Track Changes in Word or Suggesting mode in Google Docs, the pages can quickly become cluttered with strikethroughs, insertions, and comments. And although the ability to see what’s been changed can be useful, the tracking features can be distracting and make it easy to miss double words or missing words, errors introduced during editing, the list goes on.

After years of struggling with this, I discovered a feature in both Word and Google Docs that lets you see how the document will read after the edits have been accepted, and it’s made my work SO much easier. 

I know I can’t be the only one who’s been frustrated by a mess of changes on an edited document, so I’m spreading the word to help ease the pain for other writers and editors. Because, as you know, sharing is caring.

How to Read a Clean Copy in Word

To see a preview of the document with your edits accepted in Word, go to Review → Tracking → No Markup.

How to Read a Clean Copy in Google Docs

To see a preview of the document with your edits accepted in Google Docs, go to Tools → Review Suggested Edits → Show Suggested Edits Preview Accept All.

These previews give you a clean view of the document and make it easier to read and to spot any mistakes.

For instance, I recently rewrote and reorganized a 48-page manuscript. When I did the clean read-through, I noticed that when I’d moved a big chunk of text from one page to another, I left one sentence behind. Sure, I might have caught it with the markup showing, but it’s way easier to notice it on a clean page.

Bonus Tip

When I edit for clients, I always send two versions of the document back: one with every comment, deletion, and insertion visible and a clean copy that shows my edits accepted. It’s a little extra that doesn’t take much time on my end, and my clients always appreciate it.

As well as is not a synonym for and

A common writing mistake is substituting as well as for and. But they’re not synonymous.

Because as well as is not a coordinating conjunction, it cannot be used to join two or more things of equal importance.

Instead, it places the importance on whatever comes before as well as.

Here’s an example where  as well as is used incorrectly:

This could potentially limit his ability to influence his team, as well as build momentum for further changes and improvements.

Replacing as well as with and in that sentence makes it correct:

This could potentially limit his ability to influence his team and build momentum for further changes and improvements.

If you’re joining two or more things of equal importance, use and.

Consider adding guidance on this in your writing style guide.

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Steer Clear of the Alphabet Soup


Practical Tips for Using Abbreviations Without Confusing
Your Audience

Abbreviations are used a lot in technical writing, and they’re great for saving space or staying within word or character count limits. But they can be tricky, and if you use them the wrong way, you risk alienating your reader. The following tips will help you use abbreviations in a way that makes sense to your reader.

The Introduction

In most instances, it’s best to introduce and define an abbreviation at first mention in running text, like this: adverse event (AE). Don’t introduce it in a header or subhead. For subsequent instances, use only the abbreviation. In longer pieces with multiple long sections or chapters, consider defining the abbreviation at first mention in each section or chapter.

Executive summaries and abstracts are typically treated as separate pieces because they’re often used as standalone pieces in other publications or as reference materials. If abbreviations are allowed in executive summaries and abstracts, they should be defined in those pieces and then again in the main body of the document.

Tables and figures are also typically treated as separate pieces, with abbreviations defined at the bottom of each piece in alphabetical order.

PRO TIP : Avoid creating sloppy abbreviation lists. Be sure that all abbreviations that appear in the table or figure are listed and that all abbreviations in the list appear in the table or figure. This task is tedious
but essential.

Know Your Audience

Defining abbreviations is especially important for a lay audience. However, if you’re writing for subject matter experts, it’s often fine to use abbreviations without defining them. This means you have to really know your audience—if you’re even the teensiest bit unsure whether to define or not define, err on the side of caution: When in doubt, spell it out.

Follow Publication Guidelines

If you’re writing a journal article, check the publication guidelines to see if they have rules about using abbreviations. The rules vary for each journal:

  • Some journals don’t allow abbreviations.
  • Some journals allow them but may have restrictions for using them.
  • Some journals have a list of preferred abbreviations, those that should never be used, or those that can be used without a definition.

Keep It Simple

The goal of technical writing is to explain complex ideas in a way that will make sense to your audience. If you follow these tips and avoid the alphabet soup, you’ll be well on your way to meeting that goal.