Singular or plural organisation?

When writing a press release, article or other material, it’s a good idea to decide how you want to refer to your business or organisation.

Do you say “the company is a leader in its field” or “the company are leaders in their field”?

The first one is preferable and grammatically correct, because a company is a single entity and can only be a leader, not many leaders. It requires the singular form of the verb (is) rather than the plural form (are) used in the second version.

So when referring to the company, write about “it” operating throughout the UK.

If a number of people work for the company, you may want to write about them collectively, eg “we work together.” In this case, the plural form is correct, because you are talking about the people in the company, not the organisation itself.

If you stick to these guidelines, you should be able to write consistenly about your organisation and your colleagues.

For more business copywriting and proofreading tips, please visit regularly.

Being discrete discreetly

Discreet or discrete?

They sound and look similar, but their meanings are different, so how do you know which one to use?

Discrete (adjective) means separate or individually distinct.

Discreet (adjective) means circumspect or tactful.

So saying “the owner installed a discreet wind turbine on the property” explains that the turbine was unobtrusive, while saying “the owner installed two discrete generators” emphasises that two separate generators were installed.

The difference between ete and eet is an important one.

Robert Zarywacz

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our blog regularly.

The question of rules in communication

Recently, I have read a lot about whether we should worry about how we communicate, especially when publishing material online. Does it matter if we don’t use capitals when we should or we spell words incorrectly or mangle our grammar?

I think it does.

Why? Well, over the past few weeks I’ve been proofreading some rather large documents and on a number of occasions have had to stop and re-read passages to try and figure out what the author was trying to say. Often, the solution is to add or take out a comma or other punctuation mark, which clarifies the meaning. The wrong punctuation in the wrong place or no punctuation can dramatically alter the meaning.

Punctuation acts like road signs. A road sign tells you to turn left and not pull into a stream of traffic speeding towards you. A road sign tells you to slow down if there is a hazard ahead. A road sign tells you to change into a lower gear if you are travelling down a steep hill. Punctuation plays a similar role by directing you to the intended meaning.

Is it worth bothering about? I think it is.

But what about spoken English? If we don’t want people to continually say “what?” every time we say something, correct grammar and language are very useful. People understand what we mean to say the first time and don’t keep having to ask us to explain ourselves again and again.

The added bonus is that these tools also make our language beautiful to hear and read, but – putting that aside – they enable us to communicate quickly and clearly, and then get on with something else. They are invaluable tools.

Robert Zarywacz

Comprise or comprise of?

When do you append ‘of’ to the verb ‘comprise’?

Comprise means to include or to consist of. Of is added when the verb is used passively (eg something is comprised of something else). When used actively, do not use ‘of’. See following example.

If you want to write about the composition of a committee, you could write either:

“The committee comprises four managers, three members of staff and two customers.”


“The committee is comprised of four managers, three members of staff and two customers.”

You should not write: “The committee comprises of four managers, three members of staff and two customers.”

Robert Zarywacz

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our blog regularly.

When the committee writes a document . . .

. . . the result is often a variety of inconsistent spellings, grammar and punctuation. The same phrase can be written three different ways on the same page, sometimes with capitals, sometimes without. Hyphens pop up in words here and there, but not always. Generally, it’s a mess.

That’s why it’s a good idea to have an editor in overall charge of the document to set a policy on usage. If you have a formal written house style, that’s even better. You can give this to the authors before they start writing and can prevent these annoying inconsistencies from the start.

An independent proofreader can pick up many of these inconsistencies at the end, but it’s much better to prevent them in the first place so you don’t receive a PDF with hundreds of annotated comments or a Word file with hundreds of tracked changes for you to approve.

A formal house style can also improve your employees’ writing style by making them think about what they are writing.

Robert Zarywacz

When something is worth doing

Do you ever find yourself asking why you’re doing something and whether it would make any difference if you didn’t do it? I suppose this happens to us all.

I was wondering whether this z2zine blog served any real, useful purpose when I was proofreading a passage which contained the word ‘principal’ instead of ‘principle’. I wrote a blog about that, I thought. As I looked through our usage statistics, I found that people are finding these blog pages as a result of searches for such similar sounding words and I hope what they find is useful to them.

Bearing this in mind, we shall continue to blog about these topics, and if there’s any question you would like to ask, please do email us at

Robert Zarywacz

The remote revolution

Ilfracombe is a beautiful town.

Whichever way you look, you see marvellous views: the harbour, the sea, Hillsborough, the Torrs.

10 years ago I probably would not have imagined moving my office 200 miles from Berkshire to North Devon, 50 miles from the nearest motorway and even further from the nearest international airport. How could I continue working with corporate clients?

But all that has changed and here I am, writing this article in Ilfracombe.

Broadband internet access and advanced telecommunications make this possible. Now Simon and I work as a virtual partnership, collaborating with each other on client projects by phone and email. We work this way with many clients too, and some we never meet.

Does this really work?

The answer is: yes.

While there are benefits to face-to-face meetings, they do waste time in travel. Travelling from Windsor into London could add three or more hours to a 45-minute meeting and, of course, the distances between towns in the West Country add to travel times too.

So the ability to develop effective relationships remotely is very beneficial, especially when a client rings up with an urgent request for work that needs to be completed at the last minute.

Efficiency and cost savings

The capability to receive a fully designed document as a PDF file emailed from a client in the City of London, to proofread and annotate it with amendments in Devon, and to email it back to the client within hours is truly revolutionary and very efficient. There’s no travel, no courier, no time delay and no travel expenses.

It suits both large corporate clients and small businesses, and it enables us to respond more flexibly.

Maintaining satisfied clients

Clients are happy because they know that we are on the end of a phone or at a computer, ready to work on their projects.

The reality is that the distance between us – 2, 20 or 200 miles – no longer matters. The client relationship is the same as if we were in the same room together.

As well as providing cost savings for clients, we can use the travel time saved more productively.

So is there a place for face-to-face meetings in modern business? Yes, of course, and we enjoy balancing both methods of doing business.

Robert Zarywacz

The dependent dependant

Dependent or dependant?

They sound and look similar, but their meanings are different, so how do you know which one to use?

A dependant (noun) is a person who depends on someone else for support.

Dependent (adjective) describes a person or thing depending on someone/something else or unable to function without the thing it depends on.

The difference between the a and the e is an important one.

However, in the US both the noun and adjective can be written with the a, so make sure you use the right version for the right audience.

Robert Zarywacz

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our z2zine blog regularly.

It’s easy to remember the apostrophe and its uses

An advert I saw recently referred to a hairdressing salon and “it’s high standards”. It should not have used the apostrophe.

When do you use the apostrophe?

“It’s” is short for “it is”. You insert the apostrophe to show that you are missing out the i from “is”.

“Its” refers to something belonging to someone or something else. If you were describing the features of a house, you could say: “Its front door was green.” You do not insert the apostrophe.

So insert the apostrophe to shorten the phrase “it is” and leave it out to denote possession.

It’s that simple. There’s no need to worry about the apostrophe and its uses.

Robert Zarywacz

Don’t punctuate just in case you need to

Often I find that some writers create confusion among their readers by introducing unnecessary punctuation into their writing.

Why do people add incorrect apostrophes when writing about the 1960’s or PC’s, when 1960s and PCs are not only correct, but much simpler?

Perhaps it is because they are unsure of when and where to use an apostrophe and think it safer to insert one just in case it is needed?

If you’re not confident about using a certain aspect of punctuation, either read up about it in a reference book or on the web – there are many online resources – or rewrite your text so that you do not have to use it. In the longer term, it’s better to try to understand it so that you have the confidence to use it correctly in the future.

What do you do if you find there are two schools of thought on the point in question? That can be more difficult and you will have to decide which side you agree with. One way to help decide is to see how writers you respect handle this element of punctuation. Do you agree with them?

It’s not always simple, but trying to write well is worth the effort.

Robert Zarywacz

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