How to build trust with words

Saying that words are building blocks is stating a commonplace. But it’s true. Words are the building blocks of language. Written and spoken, they can connect and elevate people. Words can also build trust. Here’s how. Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker writes in The Sense of Style: […] style earns trust. If readers can see that […]

Taste in rule’s clothing

The British Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has told hospital doctors to write to patients in plain English and avoid the use of Latin, acronyms and technical terms. There’s nothing wrong with asking doctors to be clear, but the Academy’s guidance also says doctors should avoid the passive voice. Now, that’s wrong. Here’s why. Rules […]

Why do we have so many accents?

This post about language and identity was written by linguist Natalie Braber, Associate Professor in the School of Arts & Humanities of Nottingham Trent University. Versions of this article have also been published by The Conservation and The Scotsman.   Where we come from matters. Our origins form an important part of a distinctive personality, […]

Guiding lights

Style manuals – who needs them? Well, I do. I want to write better and I’ve found that some style guides help me improve my writing. One of the most helpful guides is Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. I also rely regularly on Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, edited by Jeremy Butterfield. An […]

Short and simple

In my copywriting workshops I urge people to write in a style that’s short and simple. For example, by using small and clear words rather than long and complex ones. Why write “commence” when you can use “start” or simply “go”? I also invite workshop participants to challenge me if they think I’ve got it […]

What’s the right sentence length?

A friend once asked me how many words to use per sentence. An awkward question. Usually, he was a man of many words, so I told him: “Better keep it short.” But he had been commissioned to write an article and insisted on an exact answer: “How many words per sentence? On average?” I suggested 18 – the […]

Active or passive?

If you were typing this sentence, you’d probably get told off by your word processor. The reason is that the makers of applications such as Microsoft Word don’t like the passive voice. And Word shows its dislike by underlining the sentence with a green squiggly line. It wants you to use the active voice: your […]

What’s not to like

The girl in the queue was excited. You couldn’t help but overhear what she said to her friend: “I went like … But he wouldn’t come.” I like the word like. And I like the way people use it. For example, you can use it as a verb to say you enjoy a cup of […]

It’s uncanny

It’s uncanny when a bank launches a promotion campaign for an ISA account aimed at “the canny saver” just after you’ve published an article about the word canny. You’d think that somebody’s ripping off your idea. But it was probably more like two people coming up with the same thought – what a lovely word, […]

But it’s wrong

Here’s a question. Which of the following two sentences do you prefer? 1. But I’ve always written like that. 2. However, I’ve always written like that. Many people believe 1. is wrong, because they say you shouldn’t start a sentence with a conjunction, which is a word such as ‘but’ that’s used to connect parts […]