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The PRactice Style Guide


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The PRactice Style Guide

  1. 1. ThePRacticeGuide toBetterWriting
  2. 2. 2IntroductionTHE PURPOSE OF this style guide is three-fold. It is accordingly divided intothree sections.The first intention is to bring about a measure of uniformity and consistencyacross all forms of writing. Whenever or wherever the English languagelegitimately allows for variants in spelling, grammar and punctuation, in theuse of capitals, hyphens, abbreviations and so forth, the style guide has madea conscious choice.These choices have been dictated chiefly by tradition. The guide merelycodifies stylistic norms that are already are in force in newspapers or othermedia platforms, though they may not have been written down before.In a few areas where no choice had been made so far among existingalternatives, this guide has plumped for one. The choices made musthenceforth be followed rigorously while writing, editing drafts for press kits,briefing books, messaging documents, bylines, research papers and othercontent for The PRactice and our clients.The first section is thus called ‘Stylistic Choices’.The second intention of the guide is to ensure that whenever or wherever theEnglish language has clearly laid down rules — rules of spelling, syntax andpunctuation — these are strictly followed.In a permissive, fast-paced age, when people have little time for - orinclination to obey - rules of any kind, particularly those relating to theniceties of language, in an age when abbreviated text-messaging is becomingmore and more the norm of written communication, our style book haschosen to remain reasonably conservative.The second section will thus provide the correct spelling of words that areoften wrongly spelt, will point to – and correct – common errors ingrammatical usage and punctuation.
  3. 3. 3The second section is thus called ‘Correct Usage’.The third intention is to provide some guidelines by following which thequality of prose can be maintained at a consistently high level.Even perfectly correct English may not always make for good writing. Butcontrary to the rules set down in the first two sections, these guidelines arenot absolute.They are merely helpful hints towards good writing that can always beignored in the interests of even better writing.The third section is called ‘Better Writing’.Finally all rules are temporal, subject to change or even abolition ascircumstances change.Our goal is to regularly update this document to make sure that it is in stepwith the times.
  4. 4. 4Part One: Stylistic ChoicesA.AbbreviationsBy and large the full form of every common – and certainly everyuncommon – abbreviation should be used the first time it appears in thebody copy. If it appears more than once the abbreviation should follow thefull form within brackets at first usage. Thereafter only the abbreviationneed be employed.Exceptions can be made, with the abbreviation used even at first mention, inthe case of those entities whose abbreviations are more familiar to readersthan their full forms, especially if the full forms are inordinately long. If thefull form comprises just one or two words, there need be no exception. Forinstance, body copy should always use ‗the United States‘ or ‗the UnitedKingdom‘, the first time these countries are referred to, not ‗the US‘ and ‗theUK‘.Full stops are not to be used between the letters, or at the end of,abbreviations and acronyms. It is PMO and not P.M.O. (Prime Minister‘sOffice), US Embassy, not U.S. Embassy, UFO and not U.F.O. (unidentifiedflying object). They are, however, always used after the initials in a propername: P. Chidambaram, V. S. Naipaul.List of exceptions (not exhaustive):1. Entities better known by their abbreviations than their full forms, providedthey consist of more than two words: (For example: HIV, BBC, CIA, DVD,NGO, MP, MLA, MLC, km, kg, etc) They can be in capitals or lower casedepending on general usage.2. National political parties – the BJP, the BSP, the CPI, the CPM; the fourwell known regional parties of Tamil Nadu – the DMK, the AIADMK, thePMK, the MDMK. All other regional parties, even if they are well known –from the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, to the Telegu Desam Party inAndhra to the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala – should be spelt outin full at first use.
  5. 5. 5Political parties of other countries should always be spelt out at first mentionin the copy, even if they are well known in India (For example: PakistanPeople‘s Party – PPP).Other points to remember:The name of a private company, public sector undertaking or any otherorganisation should be spelt out at first reference, even if it is very wellknown (Advanced Micro Devices, not AMD; Tata Iron and Steel Co, notTISCO; Bharat Heavy Electrical Ltd, not BHEL; Confederation of IndianIndustry; not CII, at first use.) Terms like ‗company‘ (Co), ‗limited‘ (Ltd),‗public limited company‘ (‗Plc‘) ‗incorporated‘ (Inc) can be used in theirabbreviated forms when they appear at the end of the proper name of anorganisation ( as in the brackets above), but should always be spelt out infull when they appear all by themselves (For example: ‗X‘ is a public limitedcompany).Ranks, designations, positions of any kind, whether civil or military shouldbe spelt out at first reference and abbreviated thereafter. (For example:Major-General (Maj Gen), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), ChiefExecutive Officer (CEO))Latin abbreviations – eg, ie, op cit, - should never be used, either in bodycopy or in the headline.Abbreviations, if they are well known, may be used in headlines, but theyshould be kept to a minimum. Months of the year can be abbreviated inheadlines, but never in body copy. More than one abbreviation in a singleheadline is not permitted.AcronymsAn acronym is an abbreviation which can – and usually is – be pronouncedas a word by itself (For example: Aids, AIIMS, Nato, Noida, Radar, Unesco)and everything said about abbreviations applies to acronyms as well. If theacronym is better known than the full form – as in the case of all the sixinstances above, the acronym alone can be used. There is only onedifference: our style, unlike with many abbreviations where all theindividual letters are in capitals, with acronyms only the first letter iscapitalised. (Asean, not ASEAN; Unicef, not UNICEF)
  6. 6. 6AgeA person‘s age can be recorded in two ways: ‗Ram Singh, 38‘, or ‗25-year-old Asha Rani‘. But ‗Rahul Gandhi, aged 34‘, or ‗52 year old Tony Blair‘(without the hyphens) is not allowed. All other forms of recording age,specially ‗Thirty something‘, ‗Fortyish‘ etc, are banned.AmpersandThe ampersand ‗&‘, is not suggested either in a headline or in the bodycopy, unless it is part of a proper name (eg Proctor & Gamble, Larsen &Toubro). The permitted form is ‗and‘.B.Banned wordsCertain overused or excessively colloquial words have been banned fromusage. The list includes: basically, boss, quip (as a verb), flay, slam (in thesense of ‗criticize‘), doc, mum (for silent) dubbed (for called), fin min (forfinance minister), nab (for arrested, held), Mush (for Musharraf), Prez (forpresident), Dubya (for George W. Bush), and Japs (for Japanese), amongothers.C.CapitalsThe first letter of all proper names should obviously be capitalised. Thisapplies to proper names of people as well as places (including mountains,rivers, oceans, continents as well as manmade structures from bridges totheme parks) corporates, institutions, and organisations of all kinds,including political parties (eg., Amartya Sen, Mumbai, Mount Everest, theriver Yamuna, the Indian Ocean, the Hooghly Bridge, Disneyland, InfosysTechnologies Ltd, the Reserve Bank of India, the Congress, the Lok Sabha,the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Khemka Foundation etc, etc). Agencies,commissions, acts of Parliament should all have the first letters of theirnames in capital letter.
  7. 7. 7Months of the year, days of the week, should naturally start with a capitalletter.Religions, religious festivals, ideologies (political and otherwise), followersof those ideologies, indeed all labels which stem from a proper noun, shouldstart with a capital letter (Hinduism, Diwali, Marxism, Maoist, Gandhian,etc). The same applies to major historical events (the Quit India Movement,the Partition, and the Emergency, among others)Ranks, positions, designations should always have their first letters incapitals, barring the articles, prepositions and conjunctions they maycontain, which should be in lower case (the Prime Minister, the Minister ofState for Heavy Industries, the Chairman and Managing Director).However, a distinction should be made between a designation and a jobdescription; the latter should be entirely in lower case. (Thus: ‗The editor ofthe newspaper XYZ, but the newspaper Editor XYZ)Points on a compass, when they are part of the name of any area or acountry, should start with a capital letter (North Korea; East Delhi).All words deriving from a proper noun should have their first letter incapitals (Teflon, Xerox, Alsatian, Champagne, etc).In matters relating to the Internet, the worldwide trend is to use lower caseuniformly, which the stylebook follows. Thus it is ‗e-mail‘, ‗e-commerce‘,dotcom, laptop, world wide web, etc, except if any of these words occur atthe start of a sentence.Overall, the trend worldwide has been to reduce the use of capital letters.Most newspapers/magazines today use fewer capitals than they did 20 yearsago, certainly less than they did 50 years back. (Some internet companiesand many email users seem keen to dispense with capitals altogether.)However, there is no need to always follow the herd. At The PRactice, therule of thumb is: when in doubt, use the capital letter, not the lower case.In headlines, only the first letter of the first word is in caps, unless any of theother words fall in the categories referred to above.
  8. 8. 8CaptionsEvery photograph, unless it is part of an infographic, should have a caption.Even when photos of extremely well known people are used, they should beaccompanied by captions giving their names. If space is available, thecontext of the photo should also be stated – when and where it was taken (ifit is a recent one). If an old photo is being used, the words ‗file photo‘ willsuffice. This is particularly relevant when we put together our post eventdocuments or even when we put together bio profiles of spokespersons.If a bigger photograph is being used, and there is space for a long caption,the caption should say more than whatever is obvious from merely lookingat the photograph. Within the constraints of the space available, captionsshould try and go beyond the photograph, explain what readers cannot see inthe picture.As with headlines, abbreviations may be used in captions if space is limited.Charts and TablesWhenever they are used, care should be taken to ensure they are perfectlycomprehensible to the reader without him/her having to go through the storythe charts or tables accompany. Charts and tables should always haveheadings that make clear what they are all about.Colloquialisms and SlangColloquialisms are not permitted. (Examples: ‗kids‘, ‗trendy‘, ‗pricey‘‗cool‘, etc) Exceptions should be made, however, for the lighter contentmeant for supplements or specific lighter, anchorish pieces or bylines.Note: Slang should be avoided even in the lighter sections.Crowd estimateAs every writer who has covered a public meeting or a protest march knows,crowd estimates are extremely difficult to make with any degree ofaccuracy. It is best to ask – but organisers will invariably exaggerate.Policemen providing security are a better bet for honest figures. In any case,it is always better to quote the source while providing a crowd figure.
  9. 9. 9CurrencyThe first time a sum of money is referred to in foreign currency in any story;its rupee equivalent must be mentioned in brackets. The commonestcurrencies that occur in copy are the US dollar, the British pound and theEuropean Union‘s Euro, the rough and ready exchange rate for thesepresently being: $ 1 = Rs 45, 1 pound = Rs 69, 1 euro = Rs 61. Thereafter, ifmore sums of money in the same currency are referred to, no convertedrupee value need be given. But if a different currency is mentioned, aone-time rupee equivalent must be given.The ‗$‘ sign refers to the US dollar. If dollars of any other country arereferred to (Australian, Canadian, Singaporean, etc) the appropriate symbolis A$, C$, S$ etc respectively.D.DatesTo avoid confusion, all dates must be set down in the order of Month, Dayand Year, with the month spelt out, and a comma after the day if the year ismentioned as well. The form is January 16, 2007. The PRactice does not useJanuary 16th, 2007, or 1/16/2007. Thus the fateful day when the TwinTowers in New York were brought down must always be referred to as‗September 11‘. Exceptions to this rule may be made as in 9/11 in aheadline.Also note: In this example, most Indians would understand by 9/11 as ‗theninth of November‘.Months may be mentioned in their abbreviated form in headlines, never inbody copy.DatelineThe dateline, giving the spot being reported from, followed by the date,should be in Roman, just below the byline and above the start of the bodycopy. This is another design template and can be altered / tweaked
  10. 10. 10Dateline integrity is essential for news credibility. It is also a guarantee thatthe story or byline of the author which appears just above, was at thespecified place on the date given, or in many cases a record of a particulartransaction, announcement or event on a particular day.Designations, Positions held, TitlesIf a designation is short, comprising one or two words, it can precede thename of the person who holds it. Thus it is Prime Minister ManmohanSingh, Defence Minister A. K. Anthony, Vice Chancellor Deepak Pental,etc. But if the designation comprises more than two words, or even needs tobe elaborated upon, it should always come after the name. Examples:Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Woman and Child Development, DeepakPental, Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, Mukesh Ambani, Chairmanand Managing Director of Reliance Industries. If a short form is used – PM,SSP, CEO, etc – it can precede the name, except for ‗MP‘ and ‗MLA/MLC‘,which always goes after the name.The first letter of every important word in a designation or position shouldbe in capitals. For example, Lord Meghnad Desai, Commerce MinisterKamal Nath, and so on.H.HeadlinesHeadlines are read more than anything else in a news copy, press release orbylined article. Obviously as much care as possible (given the inevitabletime constraint!) should be lavished on them.Most important: a headline should faithfully reflect the content of the bodycopy. Smart, pithy headlines are certainly welcome, but not at the cost ofaccuracy.Above all, responsible headlines ensure we never exaggerate orsensationalize and boost credibility. In the matter of the death tolls inparticular, following a natural disaster, accident, riot or a huge businessdeal/transaction or market movement and such similar examples, it is betterto err on the side of caution.
  11. 11. 11Clichés and worn out catchphrases in headlines should be avoided at allcosts.In two-tier or three-tier headlines, appropriate words should be used so thatvery little white space (or none) is left over in each line.Hindi (Indian) WordsThe use of Hindi words – and those from other Indian languages – withoutputting them in italics, or providing a glossary, has grown increasinglyprevalent in Indian writing of late, especially the writings of successfulIndian-English novelists. At The PRactice, however, the rule is: only thoseHindi words are permissible which have no exact equivalent in English.There are many such. To list some at random: names of flowers, trees,animals, birds peculiar to India; names of culinary dishes, items of clothing,religious rituals, religious figures, religious expressions, festivals, weddingrituals, which originated in, or belong to India alone; names of castes, tribesand ethnic communities, of art forms, musical instruments and musicalforms, market jargon/lingo peculiar to Dalal St etc, etc. Kinship terms areanother vast area – English has very few of them.If the word used is part of everyday ‗Hinglish‘ speech, it can be put inwithout italics or explanation. If it is not, italics should be employed and theword‘s meaning explained in brackets.When there does exist an exact English equivalent to the Hindi word, itshould always be preferred. ‗Maternal uncle‘ should prevail over ‗mama‘.The use of Hindi words merely to convey the ambience or flavour of thescene being reported on is not encouraged. If at all they are used – whilereporting direct speech, for instance – they should be in italics, and theirEnglish meaning should be provided in brackets. ‗Stardust-lingo‘ is anabsolute no-no.For headlines and straplines, the above rules can be relaxed a bit, especiallyif this results in creative word play.
  12. 12. 12HyphensThere are no fixed rules to decide which words should be hyphenated andwhich should not. It is best to consult a standard dictionary. In any case,present day writing allows much flexibility and choice in the matter ofhyphens – there are writers who simply turn the hyphenated word into oneword (or two!) and have dispensed with the hyphen altogether (and theirwriting is none the worse for it).A few broad guidelines on hyphens are given below, but there are exceptionsto each rule, nor are the guidelines exhaustive.1. Words beginning with the following usually use a hyphen: agri, anti,counter, extra, half, inter, mid, multi, non, post, pre, semi, ultra. (But thenthere is ‗agriculture‘, ‗antiseptic‘ etc – without hyphens!)2. Certain titles: Field-Marshal, Secretary-General, Vice-President.3. Adjectives comprising two or more words: 30-year-old businessman, left-wing propaganda, value-added tax.4. Words in which two identical letters occur one after the other and need tobe kept separate: book-keeping, co-operate, pre-empt, etc (But what aboutoverrule, withhold?)5. Three words which go together: mother-in-law, commander-in-chief.6. Nouns formed by prepositional verbs: buy-out, stand-offHyphens are a very confusing area of the English language, where rules areconstantly changing too. ―If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely gomad,‖ says the Oxford University Press style manual. The bottom line(bottom-line?) at the newspaper is that no heads will roll if hyphens arefound missing, or even if one has been used where it should not have been.
  13. 13. 13I.ImpartialityInnuendoes have no place in The PRactice stylebook. If a charge cannot bemade outright, it should not be made at all.IndianismsSome of the uniquely Indian usages of the English language are finding theirway into dictionaries and scholarly dissertations, but the newspaper wouldstill prefer to maintain its distance from them. Expressions like ‗prepone‘,‗pin drop silence‘, ‗serious‘ (for seriously ill), ‗wheatish complexion‘ (thereare many dozens more) still do not look respectable in print, and should beavoided.So too the last remnants of archaic, colonial-era English – which the Britishthemselves have long discarded – persist in India and Indian journalism,though less so than in the past. Care should be taken to see that words like‗miscreants‘, ‗eve teasing‘, ‗concubine‘ and so on, never find place in ThePRactice content.ItalicsAll words from languages other than English should be in italics, except – asnoted earlier – Hindi words which have no English counterpart, and are alsoeasily understood by the majority of people. Words originally from foreignlanguages, but now entirely Anglicised – restaurant, rendezvous, bourgeois,and so forth – should obviously not be italicised.Technical and scientific names, of trees or viruses or whatever, usually comefrom Latin and should be in italics. So too should other Latin expressionsoften used in English like Homo sapiens and E. coli.All names of newspapers and magazines should be in italics. For anewspaper, generally, a definite article should precede its name, whichhowever, should be in plain roman script (without italics).Thus: the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times etc, etc.For magazines and other publications, however, the definite article is
  14. 14. 14dropped, unless it is part of the periodical‘s name, when it too should be initalics. Thus: India Today, Outlook, The Week.All names of books, pamphlets, films, radio and television channels, radioand television programmes and shows, should be italicised.N.Names and titlesThe PRactice sets down a person‘s full name at first reference in a story, andthereafter use the surname. The surname alone must be used, and not thefirst name, except if – as is often the case with people from the world ofentertainment – the first name is more familiar to readers. (Thus it is‗Hrithik‘ for Hrithik Roshan, ‗Aishwarya‘ for Aishwarya Rai.) Even allegedor convicted criminals – Dawood Ibrahim, Moninder Singh Pandher, andManu Sharma – should be referred to by their surnames after first mention,not their first names.An exception, however, has to be made in stories about people from thesame family (say a piece on Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and PriyankaGandhi) when first names may be used to distinguish between them. If twoor more people in a story merely share the same surname – say, ManmohanSingh and Arjun Singh, or Aamir, Shakhrukh, Salman and Saif Ali Khan –the entire name must be used each time, first name alone will not do.In the case of headlines, exceptions can be made, especially when referringto movie or television stars (‗Abhi-Ash‘ and so forth).As for titles, courtesy titles like Mr, Mrs, Ms, Prof, etc are used either at firstreference to an individual and not at any point thereafter. The onlyexceptions are medical doctors whose names should be prefixed with Dr.(Ph. D. holders are not entitled to this privilege.)NumeralsNumerals from one to nine must be written out in words; 10 and above, infigures. If a sentence begins with a numeral, the latter has to be spelt out inwords, no matter how large it is. If a number has a decimal point, it shouldalways be represented in figures, even if it less than nine (Example: 6.8) If
  15. 15. 15the number is less than one, the decimal point should have ‗zero‘ before it(Example: 0.89).When setting down percentages or ratios, whole numbers below 10 can alsobe written in numerals: ‗6 per cent‘, not ‗six per cent‘, ‗3:5‘, not ‗three is tofive‘.In our content, ‗lakh‘ and ‗crore‘ when preceded by a numeral, do not takethe plural form, the same way ‗thousand‘ or ‗million‘ do not. (It shouldalways be 20 lakh, not 20 lakhs.) However, when there is no specificnumeral, the plural form is used (Example: crores of rupees were lost).The same applies to ‗kilometre‘ and ‗kilogram‘; an example here is ‗25 kmaway‘; not ‗25 kms away‘.The metric system of measurement is followed. All distances should be incentimetre, metre and kilometer, all weights in gram and kilogram, allvolumes in millilitre and litre, all areas in acre or square metre or square km.Mathematical symbols should be avoided as far as possible. When providingpercentages the symbol should never be used, not even in a headline or aninfographic. It should always be ‗per cent‘, or if abbreviation in a headline isrequired, pc.O.ObscenityThe PRactice is not prudish. Anything and everything can be discussed, be itsexual behaviour, censorship, advances in biological sciences, or sex crimes.But the language employed will always be clinical, not coarse. Offensivewords, four-lettered or otherwise, are not permitted. On photographs,editorial decisions will be taken on a case by case basis whenever the needarises.
  16. 16. 16P.Political Correctness & Social SensitivenessPolitical correctness is desirable. Even 15 years ago, the Scheduled Casteswere routinely referred to as ‗Harijans‘; that term is now redundant andfound patronising, they prefer to call themselves ‗Dalits‘. The physically andmentally handicapped now prefer to call themselves physically or mentally‗challenged‘. The PRactice must adjust its terminology accordingly.The names of some Indian cities too have lately been altered, the latest beinga number of changes in Karnataka, led by ‗Bangalore‘ turning into‗Bengaluru‘. It happens worldwide as well – Peking becoming Beijing,Rangoon, Yangon. The Congo Republic changed its name to Zaire, and isnow back to calling itself ‗the Democratic Republic of Congo‘. Suchchanges are invariably in response to regional or national sentiments andshould be respected. The PRactice must adopt all the new names.In reports of communal clashes, it has for long been a convention in India touse the term ‗members of a particular community‘, without specifying ifthey are Hindus or Muslims, while discussing the cause of rioting, or thedeath toll. This does lead to some obfuscation, and has been discarded latelyby certain publications, but The PRactice, given its persistence to remainsensitive to all issues will continue with it.In general, pejorative or derogatory references to any group or community,including those the progressive sections disapprove of – politicians, largebusiness houses, upper castes, rural landlords - should be strictly avoided. Itis important to keep a sharp eye out for statements – even if they areattributed to named sources – which reinforce stereotypes or perpetuateprejudices, and remove them before a story is printed.Similarly, an individual accused of a crime is merely a suspect until he hasbeen convicted. Reports of crime or criminal trials must remain foreverconscious of this, with the term ‗alleged‘ being frequently employed inthem.
  17. 17. 17PunctuationFull stop:Apart from ending a sentence, a full stop should be used after every initial ina person‘s name. Full stops should not be used after every individual letter inan abbreviation or acronym, or even at the end. An abbreviated title like ‗Dr‘(for Doctor) need not have a full stop after it. Contractions of words – Jan,govt – are only allowed sparingly in headlines, not in body copy of pressreleases. But they too need not have full stops after them.Apostrophe:Word (or figure) contractions that require the use of an apostrophe toindicate missing letters (or numbers) are not permitted, either in headlines orbody copy. (Expressions like ‗can‘t‘, ‗shouldn‘t‘, ‘07, should be used assparingly as possible, except when reproducing direct speech – it shouldalways be ‗cannot‘, ‗should not‘, ‗2007‘.) In most print platforms, anapostrophe is only used to indicate possession (Ram‘s book, Jones‘s house).Inverted Commas:Double inverted commas should be used only when reporting direct speech.In all other cases, single inverted commas should be employed. In headlines,single inverted commas alone should be used.Q.QuotesDirect quotes are essential in news stories, but they should be used to takethe story forward. They should not merely repeat what the writer has setdown as factual information in the preceding sentence. They should alsosound like direct speech. Complicated figures, complex technical details,convoluted legal arguments, should not be put within inverted commas, butset down as information, with the source identified.Quotes should also be handled with great care and respect. They shouldnever be distorted. What a person actually utters can of course be shortenedin the interests of brevity, but not even a shade of meaning should be altered.
  18. 18. 18When quoting from a printed text or any kind of document, the breaksshould be made very clear with the use of three dots. If explanatory words orphrases need to be inserted, these should always be in brackets.S.SpellingsThe PRactice follows British spellings, not American. The main differencesare:(a) Words in British English may contain composite vowels ‗ae‘ or ‗oe‘ – asin diarrhoea, gynaecology, and homoeopathy – which American Englishrarely does. In the latter form, these words would be ‗diarrhea, gynecology,and homeopathy.(b) British English prefers ‗ce‘ even when the pronunciation is ‗se‘ as inoffence, defence, advice, and practice (as a noun); with ‗se‘ as a verb.American English has ‗offense‘, ‗defense‘, advise, ‗practise‘ (both as nounand verb)(c) One glaring difference is over ‗ise‘ (or ‗yse‘) and ‗ize‘ (or ‗yze‘) –British English uses the former, American English the latter. ‗Realise‘,‗paralyse‘, ‗sensitise‘ etc are British spellings, ‗realize‘, ‗paralyze‘,‗sensitize‘, American. (Of course there are some words ending in ‗ise‘ whichremain the same even in American English – advertise, revise, etc.)(d) British English often has superfluous letters (which contribute little ornothing to the pronunciation) within or at the end of words, which theAmerican version excises. It is ‗programme‘ ,‗catalogue‘, colour, likeable,demeanour etc in British English, ‗program‘, ‗catalog‘, color, likable,demeanor in American. However, ‗computer program‘ is spelt just that way,even in British English.(e) Words ending in‗re‘ in British English change to ‗er‘ in American:theatre, centre, become ‗theater‘, ‗center‘.(f) ‗Gray‘ is American spelling, ‗grey‘ is British.
  19. 19. 19Part Two: Common ErrorsA.ArticlesWhenever the indefinite article has to be employed, ‗a‘ is used before wordsbeginning with a consonant, and ‗an‘ before words beginning with a vowel.Errors arise because of the exceptions.(a) Words starting with a silent ‗h‘ are preceded by ‗an‘, though ‗h‘ is aconsonant - an heir, an hour, an honour.(b) Certain words starting with vowels still require ‗a‘, not ‗an‘ before them,specially when the starting letter has a ‗y‘ or ‗u‘ sound – ‗a ear‘, a European,a university.The real challenge, however, is deciding when to use an article before anoun, and when not to. The problem is compounded by the fact that there areno articles in most of the Indian languages; our mother tongues provide noguidance or pointers. Should we say ‗Police have caught the thieves‘ or ‗thepolice have caught the thieves‘? The latter is correct. Should we say‗Inflation was 6 per cent last week‘ or ‗the inflation was 6 per cent lastweek‘? The former is correct.It is simply a question of usage. Some English grammar books provide awelter of innumerable rules on the use of articles, but ultimately one has togo simply by what sounds right.Accept, except‗Accept‘ is to take or receive, ‗except‘ is to leave out.Advice, advise‗Advice‘ is the noun, ‗advise‘ is the verb; so too with ‗practice‘ and‗practise‘.
  20. 20. 20Affect, effect‗Affect‘ means to influence; ‗effect‘ means outcome or consequence.Allude, refer‗Allude‘ means to refer to in passing, ‗refer‘ means to make a directreference. So too ‗allusion‘ means a passing reference, ‗illusion‘ is amistaken impression.Alternate, alternative‗Alternate‘ means two people taking turns at doing something; ‗alternative‘means a choice between two options.Among, between‗Between‘ is used while referring to just two choices; ‗among‘, when thechoices are more than two.Anyone, any oneIs that one word or two? Depends on the context. Eg ―Anyone can criticize,but it has to be seen if any one of those who do, can perform better.‖ Samegoes for ‗every one‘ and ‗everyone‘.AppealThe verb always takes a preposition. One appeals against something, orappeals to someone, one does not simply appeal (except while bowling orfielding in cricket).B.Beside, besides‗Beside‘ means ‗by the side of‘ or ‗next to‘. Eg: He sat beside me. ‗Besides‘means ‗in addition to‘. Eg: He is an excellent worker; besides he is alwayspunctual.
  21. 21. 21BillionBillion is 1000 million, or 100 croreBoth‗Both sides agreed‘ is a tautology (like ‗6 pm in the evening‘). It should be‗both agreed‘ or ‗the two sides agreed‘.C.Canvas, canvassOne paints on a canvas, but one has to canvass for votes.Collective NounsMost collective nouns take singular verbs – ‗The crowd is large‘, etc – butthere are a few exceptions: ‗a couple‘, ‗the police‘ ‗Team India‘ (the Indiancricket team), though usually ‗team‘ takes a singular verb.ComparisonsComparisons should be exact, like with like. ―The power crisis today is moreacute than 10 years ago‖ or ―Air fares now are often lower than second classAC train travel‖ are wrong usages. They should read ―The power crisistoday is more acute than it was 10 years ago‖ or ―Air fares now are oftenlower than second class AC train fares‖.CompriseThe use of the preposition ‗of‘ after ‗comprise‘ is incorrect.ConsultThe use of the preposition ‗with‘ after ‗consult‘ is incorrect.
  22. 22. 22Continual, continuous‗Continual‘ means frequent or repeated. ‗Continuous‘ means withoutstopping even once, uninterrupted. There is a big difference, for instance,between ‗continual rain‘ and ‗continuous rain‘.Credible, credulous‗Credible‘ means believable, and is the antonym of ‗incredible‘. ‗Credulous‘means naïve, one who will believe anything.D.Device, devise‗Device‘ is the noun; ‗devise‘ is the verb.Differ with, differ from‗Differ with‘ is only used in the context of having a difference of opinionwith another person. ‗Differ from‘ can also be used in this context, as well asin the sense of being different from somebody else. ‗I differ from my brotherin that he is very loquacious, while I am not.‘ ‗Differ with‘ cannot be used inthis context.Disinterested, uninterested‗Disinterested‘ means ‗impartial‘, ‗neutral‘. ‗Uninterested‘ means ‗notinterested‘.Dispatch, despatch‗Dispatch‘ can be used both as noun and verb. ‗Despatch‘ is used only as averb. It is preferable to use ‗dispatch‘ at all times.Distinct, distinctive‗Distinct‘ means ‗clear, separate, and well defined‘. ‗Distinctive‘ is a qualitythat distinguishes a particular thing from all others.
  23. 23. 23Due to‗Due to‘ can only modify a noun or pronoun, not a verb. Thus ‗My absence(from work) was due to illness‘ is correct, but ‗I was absent (from work) dueto illness‘ is incorrect. ‗Owing to‘ or ‗because of‘ should be used in thesecond instance.E.Each other, one another‗Each other‘ is used when only two people or groups are referred to; ‗oneanother‘ when there are more than two. ‗Ram and Shyam did not speak toeach other‘; ‗Ram, Shyam and Hari did not speak to one another‘.Either‗Either‘ can be used only when there is a choice between two alternatives,not more than two. ‗You can either walk or take a bus‘ is fine, but ‗you caneither walk, or take the bus, or go by auto‘ is wrong.EmergeNews does not emerge, so expressions like ‗It has emerged that…‘ should beavoided.Emigrate, immigrateTo ‗emigrate‘ is to leave a country permanently. To ‗immigrate‘ is to enterinto a new country permanently.EqualTwo things are either equal or they are not. It is incorrect to say ‗more orless equal‘.
  24. 24. 24EverShould not be used with a superlative (‗longest ever‘, ‗best ever‘, etc) sincethat amounts to a tautology.Every day, everydayTwo words or one? Usually two, but one if the expression is used as anadjective. ‗Their fights are an everyday affair.‘Evoke, invoke‗Evoke‘ is to bring to mind (‗It evoked memories of…). ‗Invoke‘ is tosolemnly call upon (‗Invoke the name of the lord‘)F.Fewer, lessDepends on usage, though usually ‘fewer‘ is used when referring tonumbers, ‗less‘ when referring to quantities. Eg: ‗There were fewer than 10people in the room‘; ‗They will not sell less than a kilo‘.Fortuitous‗Fortuitous‘ means ‗by chance‘, it does not mean ‗by lucky chance‘ or‗fortunate‘.Future planA tautology. ‗Plan‘ is enough.I.Include, comprise‗Include‘ is used when only some of the elements or components of a groupor a body are mentioned; ‗comprise‘ when all of them are. Eg: ‗The sevensisters of the North East include Nagaland and Mizoram‘, but ‗The sevensisters of the North East comprise Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland,Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
  25. 25. 25Its, It’s‗It‘s‘ is a contracted form of ‗it is‘. In all other cases, the apostrophe is notused.L.Licence, license‗Licence‘ is the noun (‗driving licence‘), ‗license‘, the verb (‗licensed tokill‘).Like, as‗Like‘ is used while comparing nouns or pronouns: ‗He acted like a fool‘.‗As‘ is used when comparing verbs: ‗He acted as fools do.‘Like, such asIn this context ‗like‘ means ‗similar to‘. ‗Such as‘ is used while offering anexample. There is a difference in meaning for instance, between the sentence‗Politicians like Lalu Prasad always offer good sound bytes‘ and ‗Politicianssuch as Lalu Prasad always offer good sound bytes,‘ though both aregrammatically correct. (The second implies all politicians give good quotes.)M.May, can‗May‘ is used while seeking permission, ‗can‘ relates to the ability to dosomething. There is a big difference in meaning thus between ‗May I sitdown?‘ and ‗Can I sit down?‘N.NamesIt is extremely important to ensure that every name that appears in thenewspaper or documents is spelt correctly – that is, in just the way theperson named spells it. Thus it is Shashi Kapoor, but Shekhar Kapur – andso forth. If a person chooses to change the spelling of his or her name – for
  26. 26. 26numerological or whatever reasons, we follow suit whenever it names him.For instance: Laloo Prasad Yadav to Lalu Prasad Yadav to just Lalu Prasad.There are reliable sites on the Internet at which the names of all well known,important or powerful people – the kind that mostly figure in newspapercolumns – can be checked. Whenever in doubt, it is important to do so.The same goes for the proper names of places, mountains, rivers, etc, etc.Neither, norIf ‗neither‘ is used in a sentence, ‗nor‘ must follow at some point soon after.The use of ‗or‘ in this context, instead of ‗nor‘ is incorrect. ‗Neither …nor‘can govern only two elements, not more. For instance: ‗Neither Yadavs norDalits voted for the Congress in UP‘. To say ‗Neither Yadavs nor Dalits norMuslims voted for the Congress in UP‘ would be incorrect.O.Only‗Only‘ is used only (!!) before the word or phrase it qualifies. It should notcome after. It should not end a sentence. It is easy to mock Indian Englishexpressions like ‗We are like that only‘, but even saying ‗I want onesandwich only‘ is wrong. It should be ‗I want only one sandwich‘.P.PastThe word is often used when it is actually redundant. Eg: past history, pastrecord.It is also not a synonym for ‗last‘. ‗I have been depressed for the past twodays‘ is strictly speaking, incorrect usage.PressureThe verb relating to ‗pressure‘ is ‗pressure‘, not ‗pressurise‘. ―He waspressurised into signing the document‘ is wrong, it should be ‗he waspressured into signing the document‘.
  27. 27. 27ProtestIt is better to avoid expressions like ‗holding a protest‘ or ‗staging a protest‘.It should be ‗holding a demonstration‘ or ‗staging a protest rally‘ (or ‗protestmarch‘)S.Silicon, silicone‗Silicon‘ chip, but ‗silicone‘ implantsSingle outShould refer to only one person or thing. ‗He singled out Chappell andDravid as the main culprits for our World Cup fiasco‘ is wrong.SpellingsWith ‗Spell check‘ and ‗‘ available at the click of amouse, spelling errors are now utterly inexcusable. Even so, a list of a fewcommonly mis-spelled words is given below.Incorrect CorrectArgueable arguableAbsess abscessAccessable accessibleAging ageingAlright all rightAmbiance ambienceAnymore any moreAny where anywhereBellweather bellwetherBest seller bestsellerConvenor convenerDesperete desperateIndispensible indispensableKeeness keennessLabelling labelingLikable likeable
  28. 28. 28Milage mileageOccured occurredSieze seizeThreshhold thresholdWithold withholdV.Valuable, invaluableThey are not antonyms. ‗Valuable‘ means something of high worth,‗invaluable‘ means something of still higher worth, priceless, whose valuecannot be measured.Part Three: Better WritingGrammatically correct English is only the starting point for good writing. Itis necessary, but by no means sufficient. Good writing calls for much more:clear thinking; complete mastery over the subject being written about; asharp ear for the sounds of words (‗euphony‘) while stringing them togetherinto sentences; a flair for the arresting, original turn of phrase; for the aptimage or metaphor; an ability to pin down and use the precisely appositeword in a particular context, and none other (which in turn requires asubstantial vocabulary), and so on. It is impossible to compile acomprehensive list of the ‗rules of good writing‘.However, aiming at excessively high standards while writing – or editing – anewspaper report is neither necessary nor desirable. Meeting the deadline isfar more important than producing clever turns of phrase or euphonic prose.Only two features of all good writing are essential in news writing – clarityand conciseness. Given our fast paced, distraction-ridden age, the meaningof every sentence in a newspaper report must be crystal clear to the readereven at a first, hurried reading. For the same reason, whatever informationhas to be conveyed must be done in the fewest words possible.A few pointers towards improved writing follow, with the caveat that theseare only guidelines, not instructions. As the last rule in George Orwell‘smuch quoted six rules for good writing goes: ‗Break any of these rulessooner than say anything utterly barbaric.‘
  29. 29. 291. Avoid repetitionThe first step to concise writing is avoiding repetition. Care should be takento see that no fact, however crucial, is mentioned more than once in a newsstory, even for emphasis. Even insignificant facts should never find place ina report more than once.In particular, no part of the information already provided in the first para of anews report, for instance, should be repeated while adding background andcontext or quotes a few paras later.Again (as noted in the first section) direct quotes should take a storyforward. All too often a direct quote attributed to a source, merely repeatsinformation that has already been provided by the author of the report – inparaphrased form, minus the quotes – in the preceding sentence. This shouldbe avoided.Not only facts, but also the same words and expressions should not berepeated too often, too close to each other, in a news report, barring thesmaller prepositions and conjunctions. Synonyms, if available, should beemployed (obviously taking care not to distort meaning), or else sentencescan be recast to prevent key words from recurring in the copy.(The only exception is the verb ‗said‘ or ‗says‘, used while quoting a source.Although there is no ban on using synonyms for ‗said‘ – stated, noted,declared, maintained, pointed out, etc, etc – the repeated use of ‗said‘ isperfectly okay.)Where headlines are concerned, this particular guideline has to be takenmuch more seriously. No exception can be made even for ‗said‘ or ‗says‘.Unless deliberate wordplay is intended, the same word (barring at bestarticles or two letter words) should never be used more than once in aheadline. If a story has a slug, strap-line or short introduction as well as aheadline, care should be taken to avoid using the same word in any of these.Indeed it is preferable that the individual words used in one headline on anewspaper page are not repeated in any of the other headlines on thatparticular page as well.
  30. 30. 302. Avoid superfluous wordsLean, mean writing is essential to reporting. Every piece of informationshould be provided in the fewest words possible. Any word or expressionthat can be dispensed with, without sacrificing meaning or grammar orinformation, should be. The effort should be to write – and edit – stories insuch a way that they simply cannot be condensed further, even by a singleword.Listed are a few representative examples of how expressions can beshortened and superfluous words excised.  An expert in the field of macroeconomics – a macroeconomics expert  The process of industrialisation has taken its toll – industrialisation has taken its toll  The volume of demand has fallen – demand has fallen  Demand has a tendency to rise in the festival season – demand rises in the festival season  It is necessary to make reductions in energy consumption – it is necessary to reduce energy consumption  We need to provide a summary of the day‘s events – we need to summarise the day‘s events  There are some people who never listen to others – some people never listen to others  It appears that North Korea will eventually compromise – North Korea will eventually compromise  The people who are located in that village have no choice – the people in that village have no choice  The tasks that are involved in bringing out a paper are many – the tasks in bringing out a newspaper are many And so forth.3. Choose the better wordWhen there are many synonyms to choose from, here a few broadguidelines:(a) Choose short words over long:
  31. 31. 31* Instead of ‗accomplish‘, use ‗do‘* Instead of ‗several‘, use ‗many‘* Instead of ‗component‘, use ‗part‘* Instead of ‗facilitate‘, use ‗help‘* Instead of ‗manufacture‘, use ‗make‘(b) Use concrete words instead of abstract ones* Instead of ‗motivation‘, use ‗drive‘* Instead of ‗population‘, use ‗people‘* Instead of ‗vehicle‘, use ‗car‘ (or truck or bus)(c) Prefer familiar words to unfamiliar, everyday language to jargon (even ifthe former, in both cases, is the longer word)* Instead of ‗prioritise‘, use ‗give priority to‘* Instead of ‗amentia‘, use ‗mental retardation‘However, there can be contexts in which the longer, the unfamiliar or theabstract word turns out to be the apposite one. In such cases, exceptionsshould be made.4. Keep sentences shortThe objective – as noted earlier - is to make every news report perfectlyintelligible at first reading. This is much easier to do if individual sentencesare kept short. It is true that the works of many great writers are full ofextremely long sentences, stretching sometimes across half the page of abook or more. Yet the writing remains perfectly lucid. But that is becausethey are great writers; pulling this off calls for enormous talent and writingskill. It is safer for us lesser mortals - working under deadline pressures toboot - not to try and emulate them.Too often peoples are tempted to try and include all the crucial newsworthyfacts they have unearthed in the very first sentence of their copy. This isbased on the belief that this creates maximum impact. But usually theopposite occurs - the first sentence stretches interminably, leaving the readerbreathless and confused. There is no need for this: it is enough if all thenewsworthy points in the story are included in the first paragraph .
  32. 32. 32There are some publications – and teachers in journalism schools – whobelieve that a word limit should be imposed on sentences. Some suggest 16words per sentence as the maximum that should be permitted; some bringthe figure down to 10. While there is no need to be so rigid, short sentencesshould be the norm.5. Prefer active to passive voiceIf the subject of a sentence acts, the voice is active. If the subject is actedupon, the voice is passive. The active voice is usually livelier, shorter andmore direct – and thus much better at grabbing eyeballs than the passive one.Examples:Passive voice:The CBI said the Nithari murders were committed by Surendra Koli alone,not by Mohinder Singh Pandher.Active voice:The CBI said Surendra Koli alone committed the murders, not MohinderSingh Pandher.Passive voice:The bill will have to be approved by both houses of Parliament before itbecomes law.Active voice:Both houses of Parliament will have to approve the bill before it becomeslaw.And so forth. The telltale signs for recognising the passive voice are the useof some variation of an auxiliary verb (was, will be, have been, is being) anda past participle.6. Avoid using clichés
  33. 33. 33Clichés make for perfectly correct English, and often fit very well into aparticular context. Yet they are to be avoided as much as possible, becausedue to their overuse, they have long ceased to make any impact on thereader. Headings in particular should be totally cliché-free.Clichés, however, are not only the traditional, hoary ones, which everyonerecognises (‗leave no stone unturned‘, ‗lock, stock and barrel, etc), but also ahost of expressions coined in recent times and thereafter mercilesslyoverused. The Guardian’s style guide, for instance, even lists the following:‗back burner‘, ‗boost‘ (massive or otherwise), ‗bouquets and brickbats‘,‗major‘ (both ‗major‘ development as well as steel ‗major‘) ‗massive‘,‗politically correct‘; verbs like ‗bid‘, ‗fuel‘, ‗hike‘, ‗signal‘, ‗target‘, ‗set to‘;expressions like ‗touch base‘, 24/7s. The Reuters style guide mentions,among others ‗top level meeting‘, ‗landmark agreement‘, ‗lone gunman‘,‗strife torn province‘. Other British and American newspaper style guideseven knock expressions like ‗think out of the box‘, ‗it‘s not rocket science‘,‗Generation X‘, ‗empowerment‘, ‗affirmative action‘ and many more, all ofwhich they hold have turned into clichés.The fifth rule in George Orwell‘s set of six rules for good writing goes:―Never use a metaphor, simile or any other figure of speech, which you areused to seeing in print.‖ This is difficult under deadline pressure, but it is theonly sure-fire means of avoiding clichés.7. Use similar constructionsWhen a number of words, or a number of groups of words, do the samework in a sentence, similar constructions should be used in each case, as faras possible.Example: ―Jumping a red light, the use of a mobile phone while driving, tinted glasseson car windows, all violate traffic rules.‖Would read more smoothly as: ―Jumping a red light, using a mobile phonewhile driving, tinted glasses on car windows all violate traffic rules.‖Example:
  34. 34. 34―The Prime Minister, the Minister for Human Resource Development andthe Secretary in the Department of Higher Education were all present.‖Would read more smoothly as: ―The Prime Minister, the Human ResourceDevelopment Minister and the Higher Education Department Secretary wereall present.‖8. Use adjectives and adverbs sparinglyIt is always better to show, than to tell. Greater impact is achieved if, ratherthan using expressions like ‗glowing tribute‘ or ‗defiant gesture‘, one quotesa few apt words from the tribute are quoted to bring out its quality, ordescribe the gesture. Two or more adjectives before a single noun can getpositively confusing.So too with adverbs – instead of ‗she spoke strongly‘ (against femalefoeticide or caste oppression or whatever), it is better to use a direct quotefrom what she said. Adjectives and adverbs both involve some measure ofbeing judgmental, which must be avoided.10 COMMANDMENTS 1. Always hold accuracy sacrosanct 2. Always strive to correct an error openly 3. Always strive for balance and freedom from bias 4. Always reveal a conflict of interest to a manager 5. Always respect privileged information 6. Always protect their sources from the authorities 7. Always guard against putting your own opinion in a story without ascertaining the client‘s view or opinion 8. Never fabricate or plagiarise 9. Never alter a still or moving image beyond the requirements 10. Never pay for a story and never accept a bribeReferences:
  35. 35. 35Copying from one book is plagiarism. Copying from half a dozen isresearch. By that yardstick, this style guide is the result of research!The books the guide is indebted to are the following: 1. A Handbook of Reuters Journalism – A guide to standards, style and operations. 2. The Guardian Style Guide 3. The Economist Style Guide – the Bestselling Guide to English Usage. 4. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage 5. Edit Yourself: A manual for everyone who works with words by Bruce Ross Larson, W. W. Norton and Co. 6. Grammatically Correct : The writers essential guide to punctuation, spelling, style, usage and grammar by Anne StillmanThe PRactice Strategic Communications Private LimitedCompiled by Gaurav BhagowatiAccount DirectorNew Delhi – India2010 ***