Follow by Email

Raj Blog List

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Ten Common Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling Errors to Avoid in Business Writing

“When will I ever use this?” you may have thought as you sat in that high-school English class. Now, all grown up, you find yourself writing far more than you ever would have expected. E-mails, proposals, letters, and résumés – the written word is everywhere, even in the electronic age.

Writing might not be your strength, but the way you write still says a lot to employers, clients, and co-workers. Like coming to a job interview in torn jeans and a stained sweatshirt, sending out poorly dressed written communication (with misspellings, grammar errors, and misplaced punctuation) will cause others to think less of your ability to do your job well.

Though grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors abound in our culture, “Everybody else is doing it” won’t fly as an excuse with your employer or clients any more than it did with your mother when you were a teenager. And while some grammar rules are changing (such as the ban on starting a sentence with “and”), rules don’t always change simply because a multitude of people break them. Some common errors can completely change the meaning of a sentence; others simply make the writer look sloppy. Even a few errors can make the difference between an outstanding presentation and a “No, thank you” from a potential client.

Just in case you spent more time in your English class checking out the cutie next to you than you did learning the rules of language, here are ten common errors to avoid when you write your next business communication:

1. “Its” and “It’s” are two different words. The former is a possessive, meaning it shows that one thing belongs to another. The latter is a shortened form of “it is.” Incidentally, contractions, such as it’s, they’re, and I’d, are perfectly fine for informal writing and are becoming more acceptable in formal writing. To be cautious, however, you may want to write out the longer form of what you want to say.

2. “They’re,” “their,” and “there” are also different words. The first means “they are,” the second means “belonging to them,” and the third means “that place away from here.” The same goes for “you’re” (you are) and “your” (belonging to you).

3. Avoid using “they” and “their” when talking about one person. The grammar rule that applies here is that all the nouns, verbs, and pronouns in your sentence have to agree. In other words, if one is plural, they all should be. Most people remember this rule from English class (even if they failed to pay attention), but misusing “their” has become a popular solution to the problem of offending someone by saying “his” whenever a person’s gender is unknown. Instead of saying, “Each person submits their own time card,” it is correct to say “Each person submits his or her own time card.” Using “his or her” does get awkward in longer documents, so it is better to reword the sentence to avoid the pronoun: “Each person submits a time card” or (where accurate) to make other nouns and verbs plural: “The people all submit their own time cards.”

4. Simple plurals do not require an apostrophe. This rule is basic but frequently broken. How often do you see a sign on a house that says, “The Brown’s?” If the Browns live there, it should either read “The Browns” (a label) or “The Browns’” (short for “The Browns’ house”). Products for sale often violate this apostrophe rule, so an apostrophe within a plural is sometimes called “the greengrocer’s apostrophe.” “Apple’s for sale” is grammatically incorrect. The phrase needs to lose an apostrophe or gain a possession: “Apples for sale” or “Apple’s core for sale.”

5. Quotation marks are needed less often than you might expect. In general, they should be used for quotations (the exact words someone said), direct references to a phrase, word, or letter (the letter “s”) and irony or euphemisms (she was “sick” on that sunny day when she missed work). A sign that misuses quotation marks (“Apples” for sale) suggests that those apples aren’t really apples but something else that looks like them.

6. A complete sentence requires a subject and a main verb. Somebody does something. If you are missing a subject or a main verb, you have a phrase. A phrase should not have a period at the end of it. “Submitting my work” is a phrase. “I am submitting my work” is a sentence.

7. Job titles should not be capitalized unless they are used directly before a name, as part of the name. Capitalized job titles are so common that when you start writing them correctly, with lowercase letters, you can almost be certain someone will tell you it is wrong. A few exceptions do exist (such as the President of the United States of America), but most titles used in sentences should be written like this: “The president of XYZ Company spoke today.” If you say, “XYZ Company President Xavier Y. Zelinsky spoke today,” the title is appropriately capitalized.

8. “This” should nearly always be followed by a noun. Frequently, after describing a complex idea, writers will say something like, “This is not what we want.” Sometimes it is clear what “this” means, but usually the previous sentences have so many nouns that the reference is too vague to be useful. It could mean “this concept is not what we want” or “this effect is not what we want” or even “this color is not what we want.” Specify what you mean by adding a noun after every “this.”

9. Avoid overusing passive voice. “Mistakes were made” is not much of an apology because it does not accept responsibility. “I made a mistake” is much better grammatically. To discover how often you use passive voice, search your document for the words “are,” “were,” “was,” and “is.” If any of these sentences include the word “by” or could include it (“Mistakes were made by both of us”), they are written in passive voice. Rewrite each sentence so that the subject takes responsibility for the action. Passive voice does have a few legitimate uses, such as when the person or thing responsible for an action is unknown or irrelevant, but many mediocre writers use – and overuse – passive voice without cause.

10. Spelling counts. At least one cash register has a sign beside it that says, “No checks excepted.” That sign suggests that the business will take any check you write – it makes no exceptions. What the owners really meant to say is “No checks accepted.” This example is just one of many where the meaning of our written language can be completely changed by one mistake.

Do run your computer’s spelling and grammar checks, but don’t count on them to keep your writing error free. Sometimes these tools miss spelling errors or tell you that your grammar is wrong when it is not. If writing is not your strength, ask someone who paid attention in English class to proofread your business writing. Better yet, brush up on your written language skills by reading a book or two on the subject. Many, such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, make English more interesting to those who aren’t naturally fascinated by words and sentence structures.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Tree of the month: khejari (Prosopis cineraria)

A reader asked about a tree in the Great Indian (or Thar) Desert in Rajasthan, India. Khejari (Prosopis cineraria), also called kandi, khejri, jand, and ghaf, among many others, is found mainly in the dry and arid deserts of India, where annual rainfall is 10-20 inches. Khejari are found on plains and in ravines, rarely in the hills. In these areas, there can be wild temperature extremes, ranging from 104-114 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade to less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, when frosts are not uncommon.

Image courtesy of Dr. Erick C.M. Fernandes, Cornell University

Khejari is frost-resistant, but the main reason that it’s important is because of its drought resistance. Thirsty vegetation need not bother showing their wimpy faces around these parts! There aren’t that many woody plants found in the Thar; most vegetation is herbaceous, or scrubby shrubs and bushes. Khejari is the one of the few trees found in the Thar for this reason.

Goats, sheep, cattle, and camels like to graze on it, and it’s tough enough to withstand their snacking. (Khejari do not have a cushy life.) In fact, it’s the preferred plant species for livestock grazing in the area, and it provides grazing animals (and people) with shade. All parts of the tree are of medicinal value to the local population.

Unfortunately, deserts are not static landscapes–they spread because of the demands of increased human populations, agriculture, and grazing animals, and increasingly due to the rise in the Earth’s temperatures. Rural communities can improve their fields and rangelands by growing Khejari, therefore combating desertification.

Khejari’s diversity make it a valuable “companion” to agricultural crops. Khejari is a nitrogen fixer, which means it improves soil quality by making nitroen in the soil more available to other plants. Its leaves further improve the soil by adding organic matter. With a taproot that can extend more than 100 feet deep and an extensive root mass , khejari helps stabilize the sandy desert soil and shifting sand dunes. It can serve as a windbreak, protecting farms from strong desert winds, and its wood is excellent for firewood and charcoal.

Khejari is a symbol of sustainable socio-economic development the arid Indian deserts. For this reason, it’s the February Tree of the Month. (A feature that I just made up.)

Vilayati babul (or kikar) a silent botanical disaster

Scientists point at a thorny exotic weed, prosopis juliflora , locally known as vilayati babul or kikar , responsible for pushing ground water table down and drying up surface soil killing vegetation in In India including Rajasthan's green lands. The lush Aravali green has yielded place to this weed, which is responsible for fast desertification of the Aravali regions, including Rajasthan.
According to a report of Rajasthan Forest Department planted there are a number of grass ‘birs’ in Pali and Jalore district. These ‘birs’ have been invaded extensively by Prosopis Juliflora. To improve the status of these grass ‘ birs’ it is essential to eradicate Prosopis juliflora from these areas. As such Prosopis Jjuliflora is being up rooted out from these areas. Department is expecting revenue of about Rs. 1.00 crore by way and sale of trees. Prosopis Juliflora plantations exist in ravine areas of Chambal in Kota and Bundi districts. These are also proposed to be harvested.
In India the weed was enthusiastically planted in many states just because it takes roots fast and spreads faster, was even branded as a poor man's tree for its hardy trunk, used as fire-wood and building thatched houses. The damaging sides dawned on the scientific community only recently.

Prosopis juliflora
vilayati babul or kikar
On a recent PIL by a few citizens of Delhi and a local NGO challenging the CEMDE decision to fell the weed at the park in the Supreme Court. The court asked the DDA to file an affidavit explaining why the weed needed to be felled at the 630-acre Aravali Biodiversioty Park. Pro vice chancellor CR Babu, who heads the CEMDE team of scientists, said we have made all concerned aware of our findings, explained with documental proofs why we consider the plant needs to be felled immediately throughout the Aravalli range, to grow the native plants and proper vegetation.The weed has tremendous natural growth potentials. Its stem is very strong goes down even beyond 15 meters to suck underground water from the aquifers. It also dries up the moisture of the surface soil, which is why native plants cannot grow. This creates desert-like situations. Wherever its fruits will travel, the weed will take roots. That's ways how it has spread throughout the NCT regions and some states, though it had initially planted it at a limited space. Even its pollens are known to cause asthma.The weed, vilayati babul or kikar , can be found in entire Rajasthan, where plantation and agriculture are not possible. Similar reports are available from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
A recent report by Nairobi based English daily The Nation said Kenyans are up in arms against the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UNO for introducing the exotic prosopis juliflora, but not owning the responsibility for damages it has caused. Kenyan National Environment management Authority is all set to move the World Court against the FAO. Similar reactions have also been heard from the Ethiopia, where the weed has been branded as a Devil Tree, casing deserts and famine like situations.
The Israel babul (akesia tortlis) planted in Rajasthan to check the expansion of desert produces same disaster effect like vilayti babul (Prospies juliflora). It is found most harmful for the growth of local plants and grass. Animals does not eat the grass found under these tree. This tree contain more acidic ph value and due to this the soil becomes unfit for agriculture use. The abundance growth of this tree is responsible for pushing ground water table down and drying up surface soil killing vegetation in Rajasthan. The better substitutes are the trees like Kejari, Neem, Rohira, Sisam trees who are most suitable for Rajsthan's climate, soil and eco-system