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Study Unit

Using Words Well

Robert G. Turner Jr., Ph.D.
Patricia Dawson Turner
About the Authors
Robert G. Turner Jr. holds a B.S. in business and an M.S. and a
Ph.D. in sociology. He has more than 20 years of teaching experi-
ence, mainly at the college level, and is currently serving as an
adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. Dr. Turner is
primarily employed as a professional freelance writer. His literary
credits include two stage plays, two novels, and two nonfiction
works, along with an array of publications in academic and
educational venues.

Patricia Dawson Turner holds both a B.A. and an M.A. in English

literature and has completed doctoral work in Medieval literature.
She was twice elected a fellow by the National Endowment for the
Humanities and has frequently been recognized as an outstanding
Virginia high school English teacher. She has more than 20 years of
experience as a teacher and has been noted for exceptional skills in
guiding students through the complexities of English grammar.

All terms mentioned in this text that are known to be trademarks or service marks
have been appropriately capitalized. Use of a term in this text should not be
regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.

Copyright © 2003 by Penn Foster, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of the material protected by this copyright may
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storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copy-
right owner.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should
be mailed to Copyright Permissions, Penn Foster, 925 Oak Street, Scranton,
Pennsylvania 18515.
Printed in the United States of America
This Business and Technical Writing
course is not intended to make you a
master at using words. Like any other
skill, writing is developed through

Pr eview
experience. In fact, the art and sci-
ence of writing is developed, mainly,
by the process of writing. The more
you write, the better you’ll become at
it. Also, the more you work at specific kinds of business and
technical writing, such as memos, letters, e-mails, and
reports, the better you’ll become at crafting those kinds of
In this study unit, Using Words Well, you’ll learn the mean-
ing of style as it applies to writing in the world of business
and industry. You’ll also discover the elements of the writing
process and learn the crucial importance of knowing your
The main part of this study unit deals with words—the parts
of speech and how to use them correctly. You’ll spend some
time learning the guidelines for choosing just the right word
and avoiding the mistakes with words that are commonly
Here are some of the topics you’ll study in future units:
• Developing sentences and paragraphs

• Formatting memos, letters, and e-mails

• Organizing a technical or business document

• Conducting research

• Using proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation

• Preparing technical and business reports and proposals

For now, let’s get started with the basics presented in this
study unit.

When you complete this study unit, you’ll be able to
• Outline the basics of the writing process and explain the
ABC method of organizing material for a document
• Explain the importance of knowing your audience and
identify different kinds of audiences
• Identify the parts of speech in a sentence
• Use pronouns correctly
• Select the correct verb form for the subject of a sentence
• Choose proper and effective words for writing your

iv Preview
Business and Technical Writing: The Difference 1
The Importance of Good Writing 2
A Note about Your Course 3
The Meaning of Style 4
The Writing Process 5
The ABCs of Writing 8
Knowing Your Audience 9
Voice and Tone 12


Nouns 15
Pronouns 16
Verbs 18
Adjectives 20
Adverbs 21
Prepositions 21
Conjunctions 22
Now What? 24


Choosing Pronouns Correctly 28
Subject-Verb Agreement 35


Use Concrete and Specific Words 40
Avoid Jargon 41
Be Cautious about Choosing
Informality over Formality 43
Avoid Pomposity 44
Eliminate Sexist Language 46
Use Words Properly 47



Using Words Well


Business and Technical Writing: The

Every day in businesses and industries, employees of all
kinds create various forms of written communication. These
communications may relate to the companies in general, or
they may be more technical in nature.
Business writing involves the communication of general infor-
mation related to a business. Depending on your position
in a company, you may be involved in creating or completing
forms, memos, employee appraisals, letters, e-mails, and
other items of a general nature. For example, you may have
to write a monthly report on attendance in your department,
or you may have to compose a thank-you letter to a colleague
at another company who gave you some good advice on
purchasing materials for your production process.
Technical writing, on the other hand, involves information
related to a specific field. For example, right now you may
be studying to earn a degree in a particular technical area.
Some day, you’ll probably be employed in that field.
Whenever you write anything related to your field of study,
you’re involved in technical writing. Technical writing
includes such items as progress reports, status reports,
proposals, instructions, feasibility reports, and maybe even

The Importance of Good Writing
No matter what your career plans are, no matter what type
of business or industry you plan to work in, your ability to
communicate through the written word will be a key part of
your success. You may be a top-notch accountant, an expert
computer programmer, or an experienced electrical engineer.
However, all the knowledge you have in your particular field
will be of little value if you’re unable to communicate it to
Consider this example. Suppose you’re working as a supervisor
Evaluating a person’s
of a production department. You have an idea for improving
communication skills
is usually part of an productivity. When you present it to your boss, he says, “Put
employee’s annual it in writing.” Your idea may be great, but if you can’t get it
performance review. down on paper in a clear manner, your idea may never be
Or suppose you’ve hired three new employees to work in your
department. As part of their training, you want to develop a
short pamphlet that includes specific instructions for per-
forming their job. To do this, you must be able to write in a
clear, direct manner so that the new employees—people who
are unfamiliar with your company—will understand. This
type of writing is part of technical writing.
People in business today understand the importance of
good communication skills. Perhaps you’ve noticed position
announcements and want ads that require good communica-
tion skills in applicants (Figure 1). The communication skills
referred to or implied in those notices often refer to literate,
skillful, and effective written communication skills. So there’s
your challenge. In this age of information, you have an
opportunity to move one step forward—one step closer to
the writing skills that will make you an asset to your organi-
zation and to the society served by that organization.

2 Using Words Well

General Project Manager
Must have excellent communication skills.
Store Auditor
Excellent oral and written communication skills are
Information Technology—Data Base Programmer
Requirements include
• Report writing
• Strong communication skills, both verbal and written
Business Manager
Solid communication skills required.
Advertising Sales Consultant
Candidates should possess good communication skills.
Education—Elementary Principal
Possess effective communication and interpersonal skills.

FIGURE 1—If you take the time to scan the want ads in your local paper, you’ll
probably discover that many include communication skills as an important qualifi-
cation. The information in this figure consists of direct quotations from actual
want ads. As you can see, such skills are important to careers in a variety of

A Note about Your Course

As you proceed through this course, keep in mind that all of
the study units are intended to work together. After you com-
plete the first unit, don’t assume you can discard this booklet
and forget all you’ve learned. As you progress, you’ll probably
return to various parts of your course for two reasons: review
and reference. In particular, you may find yourself regularly
referring to the material related to such things as sentence
structure, grammar, and punctuation. And, as you diligently
apply yourself to graded writing assignments, you should
review parts of the course that will help you (Figure 2).
This is a practical course. In fact, learning by doing is what
this course is all about. Except for the graded multiple-
choice exam at the end of this study unit, all of your graded
assignments require you to compose business and technical
documents. Your final proctored exam also consists of graded
writing assignments. Therefore, you should study this material
for mastery—not because you want to retain it in memory,
but because you’ll need to use it.

Using Words Well 3

FIGURE 2—These study
units in your Business and
Technical Writing course
will be invaluable reference
materials long after you
complete your studies.

You may think of this course as practical in another way.

Many today believe that we’ve entered an information age.
While that expression may mean different things to different
people, it has a practical side that should command your
attention. Information in the world of business and industry
is about clear, relevant, accurate, thorough, and objective
information that permits products to be built, services to
be rendered, and projects to be accomplished.

The Meaning of Style

In literature, style refers to a distinctive way of using words,
Ernest Hemingway of phrasing concepts, and of creating imagery and impact for
(1899–1961), a
the reader. For example, the style of Ernest Hemingway was
popular American
distinctive, partly because he used language uncluttered by
writer, was born in
Illinois but lived in adjectives. Other writers, too, have characteristic styles. Some
a variety of places write lengthy dialogues, some create colorful characters, and
during his life, others employ detailed descriptions to present their readers
including England, with vivid mental pictures. In effect, style in literature is
Canada, France, what distinguishes one writer from another.
Africa, Florida, and
Spain. Two of his The basic purpose of any communication is to convey mean-
best-known works ing. In business and technical writing, meaning must be
are The Sun Also conveyed so the intent is very clear. Further, because time is
Rises and The Old usually an issue in the world of business, clarity should be
Man and the Sea. conveyed efficiently. A business letter that’s short and to the

4 Using Words Well

point is nearly always preferred to one that’s long and wordy.
Finally, because ideas in business or technical writing need
to be clear and unambiguous, the order in which topics and
ideas are presented should be logical. For example, if you’re
writing a letter about a customer order that failed to arrive,
you should clearly specify the subject—what was ordered
and when—in the context of explaining what action you’ll
take to resolve the customer’s problem.
All of this does not mean that a well-crafted business letter
shouldn’t be readable, courteous, and friendly. Nor does it
mean that there’s no room for differences in the way people
write a letter. However, in this course on business and tech-
nical writing, style refers to basic writing principles for creating
written communications that are practical, efficient, and

The Writing Process

Whether you’re preparing a report, drafting a proposal, writing
a memo, or sending an e-mail or a business letter, the writing
process is the same (Figure 3):

Prewriting Writing Revising

FIGURE 3—Good writers follow a three-step process for their work: prewriting, writing, and revision.

Prewriting. In prewriting, you should focus on the purpose

of your communication and the nature of your audience.
These two factors are interrelated. For example, suppose
you must write a sales letter offering a home security system
to the manager of an apartment complex. You would undoubt-
edly present your offer to the manager differently than you
would to an individual homeowner. In either case, the basic

Using Words Well 5

idea is to anticipate the way your readers are likely to
respond to your communication. Ask yourself about the
readers’ needs, interests, and perhaps about their past pur-
chasing behavior if you have access to that information.
(Note: You’ll be studying more about your audience later in
this study unit.)
Writing. The writing phase includes three separate steps:

Before you begin to 1. Research the information you need to convey.

write anything, you
2. Organize the material for optimal effect.
should have a pur-
pose. Someone else 3. Compose your draft.
may determine the
To write the sales letter, you might have to review the manual
purpose for you, or
you may decide it on the security system you’re offering—step 1. You would then
yourself. Once you’ve decide what topics to address and in which order—step 2.
established a purpose, Should you begin with a paragraph that testifies to customer
keep it in the front of satisfaction with the system? The sense of security it offers?
your mind during the The relative cost? Determining the order of your material can
entire writing process. make a difference in the effectiveness of what you write.
Finally, you must get your words down on paper (or into a
word processing system)—step 3. You may think that this is
the most difficult step in the writing process. Actually, if you
properly and thoroughly complete steps 1 and 2, this step
shouldn’t present a problem. Knowing what you want to
say—and in what order—makes the actual job of writing
much easier.
Revising. No one gets it right the first time. That’s why most
experts agree that the revising stage should normally command
the bulk of your time and attention. You may choose to have
a colleague or supervisor look over the document and offer
suggestions. You must make sure that it’s grammatically cor-
rect, that you’ve used words properly, and that you have no
misspelled words. Above all, however, you must reconsider
what you’ve written in terms of its clarity, efficiency, and
economy of style. In other words, you must determine if what
you’ve written achieves your purpose.
If you use a word processing program on a personal computer,
you must use your spelling checker and grammar checker on
everything you write. The spelling checker can identify words
that you’ve spelled or typed incorrectly. Don’t rely totally on

6 Using Words Well

this feature, however. It’s not foolproof (Figure 4). For example,
if you type the word now instead of not, the spelling checker
won’t identify the error, because now is a word in the pro-
gram’s dictionary. The grammar checker can help you identify
awkward sentences, weak phrasing, and alternate words that
might better serve your purpose; but again, it’s not foolproof.
FIGURE 4—One wrong letter in
a word (litter instead of letter)
can change the entire meaning
of a sentence.

Please return your litter in the enclosed envelope.

How Good Are Your Eyes?

Sometimes a simple typographical error can have humorous results. Can you spot the
errors in these sentences—errors not found by a spelling checker?
1. Connie got her ginger caught in the car door.
2. After class, the professor traded his students’ examination papers.
3. The food waster couldn’t decide which dessert he preferred.
4. Did you wash your check at the bank?
5. Because she’s familiar with the area, we are happy she will not be able to go with us
on vacation.
ANSWERS: (1) ginger should be finger; (2) traded should be graded; (3) waster should be
taster; (4) wash should be cash; (5) not should be now.

Using Words Well 7

The ABCs of Writing
To help you organize your material in any writing, remember
the letters ABC (Figure 5). A, or abstract, should begin any
document. It’s like a summary at the beginning. In your
abstract, tell your readers what you’re going to talk about—
what the purpose of the document is. Give them a sense of
direction. If the document is going to be lengthy (say, more
A good order for any than two pages), you might want to begin with a detailed
document: abstract that summarizes the entire contents of your docu-
• Tell the reader ment. Finally, in the abstract, include some type of transition
what you’re going that leads your readers into the body (the main part of the
to say. document).
• Say it. You must determine how detailed you want your abstract to
• Tell the reader be. For example, study the following two abstracts for the
what you’ve said. same report.
General: This report presents information on and a sug-
gested solution to the backlog in the printing
Specific: Based on an examination of the work schedule and
volume of work in the printing department, this report
recommends purchasing an additional printing press
and hiring two additional employees to solve the backlog
of printing jobs.
Notice that the general abstract simply tells the reader that
the report relates to the problem of the backlog in the printing
department, including a suggested solution. The specific
abstract tells the reader immediately what the recommendation
is and what it’s based on.
B, or body, is generally the longest part of any document. In
the body, you present all the information related to the topic,
including supporting evidence, charts, tables, graphs, illus-
trations, data, and so on. If you do a good job of presenting
your purpose in the abstract, your readers will be curious to
know how you’re going to back it up. The body is the place to
present such evidence.
C, or conclusion, is the final part of a document. In the con-
clusion, you may simply summarize what you’ve already said
in the body, you may restate your recommendations, or you
may even use persuasive language to get your audience to
agree with you.

8 Using Words Well

FIGURE 5—Often people have
trouble organizing the material
for a document they’re writing. A
simple tool like ABC can provide
direction and organization.

Knowing Your Audience

Knowing your audience is basic in all writing. When you
were in school, you may have realized that knowing your
audience—your teacher—was vital to your grades. For exam-
ple, a paper for an English teacher should demonstrate that
you’ve learned what you were supposed to about grammar,
punctuation, capitalization, literature, and so on. Your audi-
ence already knew what you were writing about. Your purpose
was to convince him or her that you knew it too.

Using Words Well 9

On the other hand, in the world of business, your audience
doesn’t know what you’re writing about. In fact, the situation
is somewhat reversed and your role becomes more like that
of a teacher. Your goals in such writing are twofold:
1. To give readers information they didn’t have before. That
information may be something as simple as the message
in the e-mail of Figure 6, or it may be a lengthy report
on the feasibility of introducing a new product.
2. To offer something that will meet your readers’ needs.
Meeting this objective depends on whom you’re commu-
nicating with and the context of the communication

FIGURE 6—Although this

message is rather short, it
tells Bill exactly what he
needs to know and what
he should do.

As you prepare any kind of business communication, your

writing should address an audience—that is, a particular
person or group of people. Always be aware of whom you’re
writing to. Here are some tips to help you address your
• Think about and picture the person you’re writing to or
someone similar to that person. Try to imagine how you
would talk to that person in an ordinary, face-to-face
conversation. Then, in your writing, use language similar
to that imaginary conversation.

10 Using Words Well

• Use words that are at the vocabulary level of your reader.
However, regardless of who your audience is, keep your
language plain and simple, even for a highly educated
reader. Simplicity in the use of language enhances clarity,
no matter who the reader is.

• Try to use a conversational tone in your writing. Although

you may occasionally choose to use professional or even
formal language when appropriate, try to write the same
way that you would actually speak to the reader. For
example, the language you use to write to the president
of your company will probably be different from what
you would use to write to a colleague or a subordinate.
The language you would use to write to a person in your
field would be different from what you would use to write
to someone unfamiliar with your particular profession.

• Strive for positive, rather than negative, language. Positive

wording stresses what’s being done or what can be done,
as opposed to what isn’t or can’t be done.

Negative: If you fail to clock in on time, your pay record

will not be fully credited.
Positive: Clocking in on time assures you that your pay
record will be fully credited.
Both sentences say the same thing, but the positive one
generally creates a better response in the reader.
• Whenever possible, emphasize audience benefits. That
is, make an effort to take the reader’s point of view.

Without audience benefits: Our contracting procedure

requires you to submit your vendor number with
each invoice.
With audience benefits: To make sure your invoice is
processed promptly, please include your vendor num-
ber on each invoice you submit to us.

Using Words Well 11

Voice and Tone
In the written word, voice refers to the way your material
“sounds” to its readers. Choosing the right voice for anything
you write is closely related to knowing your audience. For
example, do your readers expect a formal style or a casual,
conversational style? Do they want you to present only facts,
or do they expect you to give your opinion as well? Do they
expect a personal style that uses pronouns such as I and
we, or do they prefer a more impersonal style? Once you’ve
answered these questions, match your writing to reflect those
When determining the voice you’ll use in a document, be
particularly aware of what the voice says to the audience. In
anything you write, you’re really sending two messages. The
one message, of course, is the information in the document
itself. The second message comes from the tone of your writ-
Some people you ing, which tells your readers how you view the relationship
associate with in between you and them. For example, do you write with the
either business or
voice of authority or the voice of cooperation? Consider this
your personal life may
know you only through
correspondence. Authoritative voice: Come to my office at 2:00 today to
These people form discuss why the quality of production in your depart-
an opinion of your ment is so poor.
abilities and of what
kind of person you Cooperative voice: Let’s get together at 2:00 today to dis-
are based on the tone cuss how we can improve quality in your department.
of your letters and Let me know if that time is inconvenient for you.
e-mails. Make sure
A person who would write the first sentence is trying to exert
your correspondence
reflects the kind of his or her dominance over the receiver. The writer probably
person you want to feels the reader is someone he or she can boss around. The
reflect. second sentence, however, presents the writer as someone
who wants to cooperate to solve the problem at hand. If you
were the recipient of this message, which tone would you
rather receive?
To test the tone in anything you write, read the document
aloud. Doing so actually accomplishes two things:
1. You can determine if the information makes sense. If you
have difficulty reading parts out loud, perhaps you
should revise them to make them more understandable.

12 Using Words Well

2. You get a good idea of what your material will “sound”
like to your reader.
In the next section of this study unit, you’re going to look
at the parts of speech—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives,
adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. Knowing the parts
of speech and how to use them correctly in a sentence will
help you become a better writer. Before going on to that
material, please complete Self-Check 1.

Using Words Well 13

Self-Check 1
At the end of each section of Using Words Well, you’ll be asked to pause and check
your understanding of what you have just read by completing a “Self-Check” exercise.
Answering these questions will help you review what you’ve studied so far. Please complete
Self-Check 1 now.

1. Briefly explain the difference between business and technical writing.


2. What is the difference between style in literature and style in business and technical

3. Briefly describe the ABC approach to writing.


4. Rewrite the following sentences so they take the reader’s point of view.
a. The specified document has been located and will be faxed later today.
b. The shipment left here on Friday, and it should arrive by Tuesday.

Check your answers with those on page 53.

14 Using Words Well

Before you can write a clear and grammatically correct sen-
tence, you must have a command of the kinds of words
you’ll use for speaking and writing. In this section of your
study unit, you’re going to examine seven different types of
words, or parts of speech. They are nouns, pronouns, verbs,
adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions.

Nouns The parts of speech

are terms that describe
A noun is a naming word that names a person, place, thing, how words are used in
quality, idea, or action. To understand what a noun is, study sentences.
the following examples:
Person Tom, Linda, president, priest, doctor
Place Chicago, Iran, Europe
Thing street, tree, cat, house, job
The word noun
Quality hardness, viscosity, joyousness comes from the
Latin word for name.
Idea evolution, gravity, average, beauty
Action running, talking, thinking
In sentences, you can often identify what’s being named by
the way the words are ordered. For example, the standard
sentence order is first subject, then verb, and finally some-
thing to receive the action—an object. Most of the time, the
subject and object are nouns, which you can identify by their
location in the sentence. In addition, you can identify nouns
by the signal words that often precede them. Words like a,
an, the, this, these, that, those, my, your, his, her, its, and
our are very often followed by nouns.
Study the following sentences. All the nouns are italicized.
Examples: The children, scared by the storm, quickly ran
to their bedroom and crawled under the covers.
Sandra and Paul like traveling to Chicago, where they
find enjoyment in attending baseball games at Wrigley

Using Words Well 15

A pronoun is a word that stands in place of a noun. For
example, the sentence “Tom stood alone in the street” could
be written “He stood alone in the street.” In this sentence,
the pronoun he takes the place of the noun Tom.
Pronouns can be classified as personal, demonstrative,
reflexive, intensive, relative, interrogative, and indefinite.

Personal Pronouns
Personal pronouns refer to a specific person or thing. They’re
grouped according to the person doing the speaking (Figure 7).
• A speaker (or writer) should use first-person pronouns to
refer to himself or herself.

• A speaker should use second-person pronouns to refer

to the person spoken to.

• A speaker should use third-person pronouns to refer to

a person or object being spoken about.
FIGURE 7—Personal pronouns
are arranged in three separate Personal Pronouns
groups (first person, second
person, and third person), Singular Plural
according to the person
doing the speaking. Fi rst Person (to refer to oneself) I, me, my, mi ne we, us our, ours

Second Person (to refer to the

you, your, yours you, your, yours
person spoken to)

Thi rd Person (to refer to a he, she, hi m, her, hi s,

they, them, thei r, thei rs
person or object spoken about) hers, i t, i ts

The italicized words in the following sentence are personal

Examples: I heard that you had planned to visit them.
We tried to convince him that our proposal was better
than theirs.

Demonstrative Pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns point out something being referred
to. This, that, these, and those are demonstrative pronouns.

16 Using Words Well

Examples: This is a pencil, but that is a pen.
These are my socks; those are yours.

Reflexive Pronouns
Sometimes the suffix –self or –selves is added to a personal
pronoun to indicate that the action of the sentence is
directed back to the performer of the action. Such pronouns
are called reflexive pronouns.
Examples: If you make a real effort to learn these concepts,
you may surprise yourself.
He beat himself at his own game.
In both of these examples, the action is directed back to the

Intensive Pronouns
Intensive pronouns take the same form as reflexive pronouns,
but they’re used differently. Intensive pronouns are used to
emphasize the doer of the action.
Examples: As we were talking about her, Linda herself
walked through the door.
If you want a job done right, you should do it yourself.

Relative Pronouns
Relative pronouns connect two related parts of a sentence
when one part can’t be a sentence on its own. The words
who, whom, which, and that are relative pronouns.
Examples: The supervisor will tell us who submitted the
winning proposal.
The Roswell Building, which was constructed last year,
has structural flaws.
The shingles that fell from the roof were loosened by the
In each case, the relative pronouns (who, which, and that)
relate one part of the sentence to another part.

Using Words Well 17

Interrogative Pronouns
The interrogative pronouns are who, whom, which, and what.
You may notice that these are the same as the relative pro-
nouns. The difference is in how they’re used. Interrogative
pronouns are used at the beginning of sentences to introduce
a question.
Examples: Who submitted the winning proposal?
Whom do you think we should elect?
Which building has structural flaws?
What caused the shingles to fall?

Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns name classes or groups of persons or
things. They include such words as all, another, any, anybody,
anyone, both, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything,
few, many, more, much, neither, nobody, none, no one, several,
some, somebody, someone, and such.
Examples: All of our sales representatives are highly
Some of the supervisors were trained through distance
education courses.
None of the recent graduates is unemployed.

A sentence must express a complete thought. Therefore, the
nouns or pronouns in any sentence must be either the
source of some action or the object of some action. That
action is expressed by some form of a verb. A verb is a word
that expresses an action or a state of being. In verbs like
cook, sing, run, and talk, the action is obvious. Other verbs,
such as live, hear, smell, want, think, and consider, express
actions that are perceived or sensed. Finally, some verbs sim-
ply suggest a state of being, such as is, am, are, was, seem,
become, grow, and remain (Figure 8).

18 Using Words Well

(A) (B) (C)

FIGURE 8—A verb can express action (A), a perceived action (B), or a state of being (C).

Examples: The dog raced down the stairs. (The action verb
is raced.)
He wondered when his friend would arrive. (Wondered is
a verb in which the action is sensed.)
She is president of the Rotary Club. (The verb is suggests
a state of being.)
Many times, sentences contain more than one verb.
Examples: I think while I run.
She tested the equipment and found it to be faulty.
Some verb forms indicate when an action occurs. Study the
following examples. Notice that in some cases, verbs like is,
are, were, has, had, will, and have are added to indicate the
time of the action. These are called helping verbs.
Examples: Jim is running the race. (Action in the present)
Jim has run his race. (Action in the past)
Jim had run his race. (Action in the past)
Jim will run his race. (Action in the future)

Using Words Well 19

Other helping verbs include do, does, did, can, could, shall,
would, may, might, must, is, am, are, and other forms of the
verb “to be.”

An adjective is a word that describes, or modifies, a noun.
It usually precedes the noun it modifies and answers the
question which one, what kind, or how many.
Examples: last child in line (Last answers the question
which one.)
The tall tree (Tall answers the question what kind.)
Four boys (Four answers the question how many.)
Descriptive words can give your writing clarity. They present
to your audience a clearer picture of what you’re trying to
say. For example, consider how adjectives alter the following
sentences (Figure 9).

FIGURE 9—Adjectives can add clarity to your writing, which in turn helps your reader to understand your meaning.

Without adjectives: The wolves gathered under the moon.

With adjectives: The howling, ravenous wolves gathered
under the cloud-draped full moon.

20 Using Words Well

Without adjectives: The house was dwarfed by the office
building next to it.
With adjectives: The small, white, ranch-style house was
dwarfed by the enormous skyrise office building next to it.

Like adjectives, adverbs modify other words. Adverbs, how-
ever, modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs. They answer Many words that end
the question how, when, where, or how much. in –ly are adverbs.
Examples: He writes effectively. (Effectively is an adverb that
modifies the verb writes. It tells how he writes.)
She submitted the report yesterday. (Yesterday is an
adverb that modifies the verb submitted. It tells when
she submitted the report.)
Our office has been moved upstairs. (Upstairs is an
adverb that modifies the verb has been moved. It tells
where the office has been moved.)
The fencer’s hand moves very rapidly. (Very is an adverb
that modifies the adverb rapidly. It tells how or how
The extremely clever student solved the problem first.
(Extremely is an adverb that modifies the adjective clever.
It tells how or how much.)

A preposition clarifies or expresses a relationship between a
word in a sentence and a noun or pronoun (the object of the
preposition). It usually indicates a time (when) or space
(where) relationship.
Examples of time relationship: We will work until noon.
After lunch, she will begin plans for the upcoming
Examples of space relationship: He ran across the street.
The Apple Deli stands beside the Beaner Bakery.
The English language has many prepositions. Some of the
more common ones are listed for you in Figure 10.

Using Words Well 21

about behind concerning of under
above beneath down off underneath
across below for on until
after between from since upon
against beyond in through with
along but into to within
amid by like toward without

FIGURE 10—Common Prepositions

A conjunction is a word used to connect two parts of a
sentence. It can connect words, phrases, or even complete
sentences. There are several different kinds of conjunctions:
coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, subordi-
nating conjunctions, and conjunctive adverbs.

Coordinating Conjunctions
Coordinating conjunctions link parts of a sentence that are
equal in importance—for example, subjects, verbs, preposi-
tional phrases, or sentences.
Examples: Nancy and Rick graduated in the same year. (The
conjunction and joins the subjects, Nancy and Rick.)
We planned the agenda and headed for the meeting. (The
conjunction and joins the verbs, planned and headed.)
You can get there through Pennsylvania or through
Connecticut. (The conjunction or joins two prepositional
phrases, through Pennsylvania and through Connecticut.)
We want to include a bibliography in the report, but that
might make it too long. (The conjunction but joins two
independent but related ideas.)

22 Using Words Well

Correlative Conjunctions
Correlative conjunctions, such as either . . . or, not only . . . but
also, both . . . and, and whether . . . or, are used in pairs to
show relationships.
Examples: Both the teacher and the student agreed on the
study plan.
Either you decide now, or I’ll decide for you.

Subordinating Conjunctions
Subordinating conjunctions are used to connect and show the
relationship between two complete thoughts.
Two thoughts: The proposal was accepted. We’ll have to
work through the holiday.
With subordinating conjunction: Because the proposal
was accepted, we’ll have to work through the holiday.
Two thoughts: Installing the software requires experience.
Its use does not.
With subordinating conjunction: Installing the software
requires experience, although its use does not.
Notice how the words because and although connect the two
sample sentences and show how they’re related.

Conjunctive Adverbs
Conjunctive adverbs connect two groups of words that could
stand on their own as individual sentences.
Two sentences: The new model is more fuel efficient. It
costs significantly more.
With conjunctive adverb: The new model is more fuel
efficient; however, it costs significantly more.
Two sentences: The market sample was not representative
of the region. It failed to produce increased sales.
With conjunctive adverb: The market sample was not
representative of the region; therefore, it failed to produce
increased sales.

Using Words Well 23

Figure 11 lists a variety of different conjunctions you should
try to incorporate into your business and technical writing.

Coordinating Subordinating Conjunctive
Conjunctions Conjunctions Adverbs
and after also
but although consequently
or as finally
nor because furthermore
for before hence
so how however
if incidentally
Correlative once indeed
Conjunctions since instead
than likewise
either . . . or
that meanwhile
neither . . . nor
though nevertheless
not only . . . but also
till next
both . . . and
until nonetheless
whether . . . or
when otherwise
so . . . as
where still
whether then
while therefore

FIGURE 11—As you can see, you have a great number of conjunctions at your disposal for use in your writing.
Use this figure as a reference to help add variety and coherence to your writing.

Now What?
You may be asking yourself why you need to know the parts
of speech to be a good writer. How will being able to identify
a pronoun or a conjunction help improve your writing?
That’s a fair question.
Here are a few practical ways in which you can use your
knowledge of the parts of speech to improve your writing
• Practice using different pronouns to achieve the effect
you want. For example, if you want to speak on a per-
sonal level with your audience, use the second-person
pronoun you. If you want to be less direct, use the
third-person pronoun he, she, or they.

24 Using Words Well

• Make sure that any pronoun you use clearly indicates
the noun it stands for. (You’ll be learning how to do this
later in the next section of this study unit.)

• Use your ability to identify verbs to incorporate descrip-

tive action verbs into your writing.

• During the revision stage of your writing, ask yourself

what you can do to make your information clearer. Can
you add descriptive adjectives and adverbs to help your
readers understand your material better?

• Make it a point to use a variety of prepositions to help

your reader understand time and space relationships.
To get into this habit, occasionally read through the list
in Figure 10.

• Use conjunctions wisely to help provide transitions from

one thought to the next. Vary your writing by occasionally
beginning a sentence with a subordinating conjunction.
Use the list in Figure 11 as a reference.

In the next section of this study unit, you’re going to learn

how to use the parts of speech correctly to make complete
and grammatically correct sentences. Before going on to that
material, please complete Self-Check 2.

Using Words Well 25

Self-Check 2
1. In the following sentences, underline the nouns once and the pronouns twice.
a. The Deckers didn’t come because their babysitter was sick.
b. Our picnic ended when an army of ants invaded our blanket.
c. A stitch in time saves nine.
d. This year, our company expects a large increase in profits.
e. Denise, his assistant, wrote these reports on the progress of the project.
f. This is the first time he was able to pass the test.

2. Insert nouns in the blanks below to make each sentence complete and coherent.
a. The _______ constructed the _______ and tested it.
b. _______ checked out a(n) _______ from the _______.
c. _______ performed the _______ according to the _______.
d. The _______ was in need of _______.
e. I like _______, I dislike _______, and I hate _______.
3. Underline the verbs in the following sentences.
a. More than 100 spectators watched the car crash into the wall.
b. Technical and business writing is something anyone can learn.
c. The repair technician had trouble with the installation of the parts for the older model
television set.
d. When the faucet dripped, I thought it was raining.
e. Sarah likes spaghetti, but she loves ice cream.

4. In the following sentences, underline the adjectives once and the adverbs twice.
a. The broken coffeemaker produced cold, weak coffee.
b. The elderly stockholder gave his substantial holdings to a distant relative.
c. Ned works efficiently, but his poor attitude makes him a risky employee.
d. The clogged carburetor caused many problems on cold winter days.
e. Her favorite aspect of architectural drafting is the very regular paycheck.
f. True happiness, the distinguished professor told me wisely, comes from
May to August.
g. The weekend conference is in town today and tomorrow.

26 Using Words Well

Self-Check 2
5. In the following sentences, underline the prepositions once and the conjunctions twice.
a. Either Building A or Building B will be demolished in February to create additional
parking space for the faculty and students.
b. Both the tennis team and the soccer team won the state championships for the
second year in a row.
c. Karen decided to practice her music before she started the homework for the next
d. At the corner of Church Street and Maple Avenue stand a library and a bank, both
of which were built in the 1920s.
e. When the game is over, Donna and Helen will do the laundry and set the table.

Check your answers with those on page 54.

Using Words Well 27


Choosing Pronouns Correctly

Clear Antecedents
As you’ve already learned, a pronoun is a word that stands
in place of a noun. The noun itself is called the antecedent of
the pronoun. Consider this sentence.
Example: The supervisor of the department was recognized
for the extra effort he contributed to the campaign.
In this sentence, the pronoun he takes the place of the noun
supervisor. Therefore, supervisor is the antecedent of he.
When you use a pronoun in your writing, make sure that it
has only one possible antecedent. In other words, make sure
you make it clear what the antecedent is.
Unclear antecedent: Charlene kept in close touch with the
department manager while she was on vacation. (In this
sentence, the pronoun she could refer to either Charlene
or the department manager.)
Clear antecedent: While Charlene was on vacation, she
kept in close touch with the department manager. (In
this sentence, the pronoun she clearly refers to
Unclear antecedent: George called Harold three times while
he was in the meeting. (Does the pronoun he refer to
George or Harold? Unless you know who was in the
meeting, you would have no way of answering that
Clear antecedent: When Harold was in the meeting, George
called him three times.

28 Using Words Well

Unclear antecedent: Engineers can be left behind if they
don’t keep up with the latest research, for it is a rapidly
growing field. (This sentence contains two pronouns:
they and it. The pronoun they clearly refers to the noun
engineers, but what does the pronoun it refer to? Does it
refer to the field of engineering or the field of research?
From the context, you can guess what the writer meant,
but you can’t be certain.)
Always make sure the
Clear antecedent: Engineers can be left behind if they don’t
pronouns you use have
keep up with the latest research, for engineering is a clear antecedents.
rapidly growing field. (To correct the problem, you can
substitute a noun for the pronoun.)

Pronoun Agreement
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender. For
example, if the pronoun refers to a female, use the pronoun
she, her, or hers. If the pronoun refers to a male, use the pro-
noun he or his.
Examples: Linda is at her best under stress. (The pronoun
her refers to the female Linda.)
Franco promoted his plan for a sales campaign. (The
pronoun his refers to the male Franco.)
A pronoun must also agree with its antecedent in number.
If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must also be sin-
gular; if the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural.
The table in Figure 7 lists singular and plural personal
Examples: Women often do their best under stress. (The
plural pronoun their refers to the plural noun women.)
Although the book was sitting in clear view, James did
not see it. (The singular pronoun it refers to the singular
noun book.)
Charlotte brings her lunch to work almost every day.
(The singular pronoun her refers to the singular noun

Using Words Well 29

Now consider the following example:
Incorrect agreement: Although the typical computer is easy
to operate, sometimes they present problems. (The
antecedent of the plural pronoun they is the singular
noun computer. Therefore, the pronoun and noun don’t
Correct agreement: Although typical computers are easy
to operate, sometimes they present problems.
Although the typical computer is easy to operate,
sometimes it can present problems.
For the most part, the sentences in these examples are
rather straightforward. That is, you can readily determine
whether to use a singular or a plural pronoun. However,
when a pronoun has two or more antecedents joined by a
conjunction like or, neither . . . nor, or and, the choice may
not be as clear.
Singular antecedents joined by and. When two singular
antecedents are joined by the conjunction and, they require a
plural pronoun.
Example: Becky and Linda have their first job interviews on
The phrase Becky and Linda means the same as Becky plus
Linda. Together the antecedents are plural and require the
plural pronoun their.
Singular antecedents joined by or. When two singular
antecedents are joined by the conjunction or, neither . . . nor, or
either . . . or, they require a singular pronoun.
Example: Maxwell or Brandt will have his interview on
In essence, this sentence is saying that either Maxwell will
have his interview on Friday, or Brandt will have his inter-
view on Friday—but not both. Therefore, a singular pronoun
is used.
Plural antecedents joined by or. When two plural
antecedents are joined by the conjunction or, either . . . or,
or neither . . . nor, they require a plural pronoun.
Example: The Joneses or the Browns take their vacation
during July.

30 Using Words Well

Even though the antecedents are joined by the conjunction
or, they’re both plural—hence, the use of the plural pronoun
Singular and plural antecedents joined by or. A special
problem occurs when two antecedents, one singular and one
plural, are joined by the conjunction or, either . . . or, or
neither . . . nor. In such cases, the pronoun should agree with
the antecedent closer to the pronoun.
Examples: Neither the owner nor the operators could clear
their names from the charge.
Neither the operators nor the owner could clear her (or
his) name from the charge.
In the first sentence, the plural antecedent operators is closer
to the pronoun; therefore, a plural pronoun is used. In the
second sentence, the singular antecedent owner is closer to
the pronoun; therefore, a singular pronoun is used.
Collective nouns. A collective noun is a word that’s singular
in form but may be plural in meaning. For example, study
the words in Figure 12. Notice that they’re all singular, but
they may refer to a group.
A collective noun may require either a singular or a plural
pronoun, depending on the intent of the sentence.
Plural pronoun: The family expressed their opinions on the
matter. (The collective noun family requires a plural pro-
noun their, because each family member expressed an
individual opinion.)
Singular pronoun: Each family had its own cabin on the
lake. (The collective noun family requires a singular
pronoun its, because the family as a group had one
Plural pronoun: The staff worked on their projects in sepa-
rate offices. (The collective noun staff requires a plural
When a group (collective
pronoun their, because each staff member had a separate noun) acts as a single
project to work on.) unit, use a singular pro-
noun; when members of
Singular pronoun: The staff met to discuss its new project.
a group act individually,
(The collective noun staff requires a singular pronoun use a plural pronoun.
its, because the staff as a group has one project.)

Using Words Well 31

Collective Nouns
assembly crowd minority
audience department nation
board faculty race
chorus family society
class firm staff
club flock strain
committee gathering team
community group tribe
company herd turnout
congregation jury union
council management variety

FIGURE 12—On the surface, collective nouns seem to be singular. However,

depending on their use, they may require a plural pronoun.

Which: A Special Pronoun

Sometimes the pronoun which is used to refer to an idea and
not to a specific word.
Example: Jason checked the required textbook out of the
library, which the other students thought was unfair.
In this sentence, what’s the antecedent of the pronoun which?
Is it Jason? Maybe the students thought he was unfair for
checking out a required textbook that everyone needed to
use. Is it the library? Was the library unfair for allowing
Jason to check out a required book? Most likely, the writer
of this sentence was referring to neither Jason nor the library.
When you use the
Instead, the writer probably meant that the fact that Jason
pronoun which, be
extra careful that had checked out a required textbook was unfair. Here’s a
you make it clear revised version of the sentence, which makes the intent
what the pronoun’s clearer.
antecedent is.
Revised version: The students thought it unfair of Jason
to check the required textbook out of the library.

32 Using Words Well

Pronoun Case
Personal pronouns have three cases: the subjective case, the
objective case, and the possessive case (Figure 13). The case
you should use depends on the pronoun’s use in a sentence.
Basically, a pronoun can have one of four jobs:
1. It can perform an action—that is, it can be the subject
of a sentence. (Use the subjective case.)
2. It can be the object of a verb or an object of a preposition.
(Use the objective case.) A predicate nominative
3. It can show possession. (Use the possessive case.) is a noun or pronoun
that renames the
4. It can be a predicate nominative. (Use the subjective
subject of the sentence.
It follows a verb that
expresses a state of
Subjective C ase Objective C ase Possessive C ase being.

I me my, mi ne
Si ngular
you you your, yours
he, she, i t hi m, her, it hi s, her, hers, i ts
FIGURE 13—Using the correct
we us our, ours case for pronouns is difficult for
many people. This chart shows
you you your, yours the forms that personal pronouns
take in the subjective, objective,
they them thei r, thei rs and possessive cases.

Pronoun as subject: I arrived at noon. We completed the

work on time.
Pronoun as object of verb: Charles sent me the memo.
(The word me is an indirect object.) Call her when you
receive the information. (The word her is a direct object.)
Pronoun as object of preposition: Fax the price quotes
to me by May 17. When Darryl was on vacation, Karen
completed the project for him.
Pronoun showing possession: My promotion will be effective
next week. The company president must approve his
decision. The design they chose was ours.
Pronoun as predicate nominative: It was I who made the
mistake. It was she who sent the message to the board.
Note: Most people feel awkward saying or writing sentences
like these last two examples. If you’re one of those people,

Using Words Well 33

simply rewrite the sentences in a different manner: I was the
one who made the mistake. She sent the message to the

Using First- and Second-Person Pronouns

At one time, using the first person (I and we) in writing busi-
ness documents was considered inappropriate. Business
people believed that the identity of the writer should remain
shadowed and impersonal. Times have changed, however.
Today, unless the organization you work for has a policy
against it, you can use the first person in your business
communications. Study the following example.
Indirect method: Your letter was received yesterday.
Direct method (first person): I received your letter
Notice that using the first-person pronoun I makes a
sentence more direct and less wordy. In addition, it gives
the sentence a more personal feeling.
Although the use of first-person pronouns is acceptable
today, second-person pronouns, such as you and yours, are
generally the best choice if you want to engage a reader’s
self-interest, as would certainly be the case in a sales letter.
However, you may also want to use this approach in memos,
e-mails, or reports that are intended to inform. Using sec-
ond-person pronouns tends to promote goodwill and a
positive attitude in your reader.
Examine the following sentences. Can you see how those
written in the second person would appeal more to the reader?
Impersonal: The items you ordered have been shipped.
Personal (second person): You’ll be happy to know that
your order is on its way.
Impersonal: Our new inventory control system has many
exciting features.
Personal (second person): Because your time is money,
you’ll be pleased with the features of our new inventory
control system.

34 Using Words Well

Subject-Verb Agreement
Just as a pronoun must agree with its antecedent, a verb
must agree with its subject. If the subject is singular, the
verb must also be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb
must be plural. Fortunately, listening to and regularly using
the English language will serve you well in determining the
correct verb form to use. In addition, your computer’s gram-
mar check feature can help eliminate many (but not all)
errors in verbs. Still, a review of verb and subject agreement
may be helpful to you now.
First, most verbs form their plurals opposite to the way
nouns do. For example, the noun table (without an s) is
singular; the noun tables (with an s) is plural. However, the
verb need (without an s) is plural; the verb needs (with an s)
is singular.
Examples: The table needs to be repaired. (The singular
noun table takes the singular verb needs.)
The tables need to be repaired. (The plural noun tables
takes the plural verb need.)
In this section of your study unit, you’re going to examine
some common subject-verb agreement problems that busi-
ness and technical writers encounter.
The subject is separated from the verb by one or more
intervening words. For example, what is the correct verb
for the following sentence?
Example: The use of computers by businesses (increase, If a word is the object
increases) daily. of a preposition, it
To determine the correct verb, ask yourself who or what can’t be the subject of
is doing the increasing. Is it the businesses, the comput- the sentence and it
should have no effect
ers, or the use? The correct answer is use, which is a
on the form of the
singular subject. Therefore, the sentence should read
The use of computers by businesses increases daily.

Using Words Well 35

Example: The type of books chosen for the reports (affect,
affects) the outcome.
To determine the correct verb, ask yourself who or what
is doing the affecting. Is it the type, the books, or the
report? The correct answer is type, which is a singular
subject. Therefore, the sentence should read
The type of books chosen for the reports affects the
The sentence involves an unusual word order. The nor-
mal order is for the subject (performer of an action) to come
before the verb (the action). Sometimes, this order is reversed
as in the following sentence.
Example: In the Production Department (work, works) many
fine employees.
To determine the correct verb for this sentence, ask
yourself who or what is doing the work. Is it the
Production Department or the employees? The correct
answer is employees, which is a plural subject.
Therefore, the sentence should read
In the Production Department work many fine employees.
The subject looks plural in form but is singular in
meaning. Some examples are economics, electronics, gymnas-
tics, mathematics, news, physics, and robotics. Because these
words end in the letter s, they seem to be plural. In fact,
however, they represent a single concept.
Examples: Electronics is a field that has grown by leaps and
The economics of shipping heavy equipment is an
important factor in sales.
Mathematics is the subject that gives me the most
The subject is a unit of measurement. Although a meas-
urement generally appears plural in form, it expresses a
single amount of something. Words used in this way take
singular verbs.
Examples: Eight hours is no longer the maximum workday
in our company.
Twelve inches is the standard length of a ruler.

36 Using Words Well

The sentence contains an indefinite pronoun. Such pro-
nouns may be either singular or plural, depending on how
they’re used in a sentence. When you use words such as all,
more, most, none, or some, determine what noun they’re
referring to. If the noun is a word that represents individual
things you can count, use the plural form of the verb.
Examples: All of the machines are under repair. (Since you
can count the individual machines, use a plural verb.)
Some of the circuits were replaced. (Since you can count
the circuits, use a plural verb.)
If an indefinite pronoun refers to a noun that represents
something you can’t count, use a singular verb.
Examples: All of the machinery is under repair.
Some of the circuitry was replaced.
A group of words in a sentence is introduced by the
pronoun who or that. In such cases, you should make
the verb agree with the word to which the pronoun refers.
Examples: Mr. Donner is a partner who makes his presence
known. (The word who refers to the word partner, which
is singular. Therefore, the verb that follows who should
also be singular.)
James and Carla are the partners who make their pres-
ence known. (The word who refers to the word partners,
which is plural. Therefore, the verb that follows who
should also be plural.)
The books that are on the table belong in the conference
room. (The word that refers to the word books, which is
plural. Therefore, the verb that follows that should also
be plural.)
The subject consists of two or more nouns joined by a
conjunction. For these instances, follow the guidelines you
learned for pronoun agreement. (See pages 29–32.)
Examples: Tara and Brett ride the subway to work each
day. (The subject consists of two singular nouns joined
by the conjunction and. Therefore, the subject takes the
plural verb ride.)

Using Words Well 37

Either Mr. Blanco or Ms. Carson is going to receive the
promotion. (The subject consists of two singular nouns
joined by the conjunction either . . . or. Therefore, the
subject takes the singular verb is.)
Neither the coach nor the players were ready to give
up. (The subject consists of two nouns, one singular and
one plural, joined by the conjunction neither…nor. Since
the noun closer to the verb is plural, the verb should be
plural as well.)

38 Using Words Well

Self-Check 3
Select the correct pronoun or verb to correctly complete the following sentences.

1. Send the results of the test to George and (I, me).

2. Drafting and planning (is, are) two tasks of an architect.

3. Either you or I (are, am, is) going to write the report.

4. I can’t remember whether Eric or Lisa (like, likes) black coffee.

5. (Was, Were) Tina or you supposed to submit the budget outline?

6. It was (she, her) who wanted to start early.

7. All of the supervisors called (his, their, its) workers together.

8. The increase in unemployment in those districts (is, are) attributed to the sluggish
economy there.

9. The section in which you discuss future plans (need, needs) more development.

10. Physics (is, are) the most difficult science to study.

11. Four days (was, were) enough time to complete the job.

12. The management and the board of directors (has, have) to approve the plan before the
president can make a decision.

13. Either management or the board of directors (has, have) to submit the plan to the
president for approval.

14. Down by the stream (is, are) two large apple trees.

15. The committee (was, were) in session for two hours.

Check your answers with those on page 55.

Using Words Well 39

The art of word choice is referred to as diction. Selecting the
correct word and using it effectively is known as rhetoric. In
the nineteenth century, the standard school curriculum
called for the teaching of both diction and rhetoric.
Finding the right word can be challenging. However, some
tools that apply to business and technical writing are available
to help you in this task:
• Use concrete and specific words.

• Avoid jargon.

• Be cautious about choosing informality over formality.

• Avoid pomposity.

• Eliminate sexist language.

• Use words properly.

Let’s examine each one of these principles individually.

Use Concrete and Specific Words

The term fiction People who write novels and short stories use concrete words
describes any story to place their reader in a specific setting, to make that per-
that’s the product son feel the situation. For example, in fiction, a novelist
of someone’s imagina- might write, “The asphalt smelled of rain and diesel fuel,”
tion. Nonfiction, on instead of “The asphalt was wet.” In business and technical
the other hand,
writing, however, your main goal is to help your reader know,
describes writing
not feel. In both literature and business writing, concreteness
that’s documentation
of fact. The novel is about getting your reader’s undivided attention. Consider
Gone with the Wind is and compare the general and specific approaches in the fol-
an example of fiction; lowing sentences.
The First American,
General: Our report covered the entire problem at the
the story of the life
Bluefield plant.
of Benjamin Franklin,
is an example of Specific: Our January 18 report analyzed, located, and
nonfiction. solved the parts-supply problems, which have been
reducing output at the Bluefield assembly plant.

40 Using Words Well

General: The cost of the new forklift is justified by its need.
Specific: The $30,000 spent on the new forklift is justified
by the 25% increase in business over the last year and
by the $500,000 in additional stock we now have in our
The general statements in the preceding examples are accu-
rate and factual, but they lack important information. They
lack facts and figures. Notice how much more the reader
learns from the specific statements. Rather than making
mere assertions (our report covered the entire problem) and
generalizations (the cost of the new forklift), present your
information in a clear and logical way. A reader is more likely
to pay attention to specific sentences, as opposed to general
ones, because they present information the reader needs.

Avoid Jargon
Jargon refers to the specialized vocabulary of a specific activ-
ity or group. Generally, there are two kinds of jargon:
1. It may be the specialized technical language peculiar to
some academic or industrial environment. For example,
electrical engineers, mathematicians, and accountants
each have a vocabulary that relates specifically to their
area of expertise. This type of jargon is intelligible and
useful to specialists in the field, but it can be very con-
fusing to outsiders.
2. It may be a special language that has developed within
a corporation. In this case, jargon is a kind of insider
language that separates “us” from “them.” This type of
jargon is also confusing to outsiders.
As an example of a specialized technical language, consider
two archeologists working at an excavation. You overhear one
of them ask, “Did you notice the supraorbital torus on that
skull fragment from S-14?” His companion’s reply might be,
“I did. Definitely distinctive.” You may read that conversation
over and over and never understand its meaning, unless
you’re familiar with the jargon of archeologists. To the two
specialists, however, the exchange is crystal clear: The skull

Using Words Well 41

fragment from the S-14 location designated by the site coor-
dinate map has a pronounced or unusual brow ridge. You
can see that specialized language, which is unintelligible to
nonspecialists, is useful shorthand for the archeologists.
As an example of insider language, suppose you overhear
yourself referred to as the “person in green” at “meat pro-
cessing.” It may take you a while to understand that you’ve
simply been referred to as a new employee in the human
resources department.
This type of insider jargon isn’t likely to show up in a memo
or letter. However, some kinds of jargon—typically the techni-
cal kind—are often used inappropriately. For example, a
stockbroker may write a follow-up letter to a potential investor.
In the letter, the broker says, “You’ll be pleased to know how
well our firm stays on top of P/E ratios.” This investor may
know that a P/E ratio refers to a price-earnings ratio, but
she may not be certain just what that means. When you
write, be alert to the jargon you use. Unless you’re writing to
someone familiar with your field, make sure you use terms
that nonspecialists can understand.
The use of personal computers and electronic communication
has created a whole new world of computer jargon. Today,
almost everyone who engages in business or technical writing
uses personal computers. However, that doesn’t mean that
everyone who uses a computer understands terms like http,
ISP, ICQ, URL, and ftp. Even if people know what the letters
stand for, they may not understand what these letters really
mean. Be judicious in your use of high-tech terms, even if
you’re knowledgeable about those expressions (Figure 14).
When you must use technical terms to an audience that may
be unfamiliar with them, always include an explanation.
In business and technical writing, the problem with jargon is
always the same: It obscures information. And obscured
information is seldom useful. If you’re tempted to use insider
or technical jargon in an effort to impress your reader, think
again. Avoid the temptation; confusing people to impress
them is poor communication. If you feel the need to use a
specialized term, ask yourself if your audience will clearly
understand it. If they won’t, you’re offering jargon. When in
doubt, explain, revise, or delete.

42 Using Words Well

FIGURE 14—The leader
“Before we start, I want everyone to disable of this seminar may be
the antivirus program. Please right-click on familiar with jargon like
the icon in your System Tray, and uncheck the
disable, antivirus, right-
appropriate box.”
click, icon, system tray,
and uncheck, but the
beginners in his class
are probably thoroughly

Be Cautious about Choosing Informality

over Formality
How do you determine whether to develop a specific piece of
writing in a formal or an informal tone? The answer is the
Know your audience.
same as that for determining the jargon you should use—
That’s the key to
know your audience. As e-mails increasingly dominate whether you use
communication between businesses, the temptation to technical jargon or
engage common language,
in sloppy informality seems to have increased as well. That’s to whether you use a
why it’s so important to know your audience. An informal, formal or an informal
sketchy e-mail to your friend in the shipping department may tone.
be fine. However, a document prepared for a supervisor or an
executive should be framed somewhat more formally, at least
in terms of emphasizing a courteous, professional tone.
The key to most effective business communication is the
use of professional, yet conversational, language. In general,
memos, letters, reports, and even brief e-mails should exhibit
a positive, warm, friendly, conversational, and professional
tone. Use plain language that you’re comfortable and familiar
with. Use familiar pronouns such as I, we, and you; avoid

Using Words Well 43

third-person expressions such as the undersigned or the
affected party.
Although you want to be friendly and conversational, don’t be
tempted to use slang or colloquial expressions like bummed
out, lousy, get my act together, and sacked. These phrases
may be permissible in everyday conversations, but they’re
out of place in business and technical writing.
Examine the three sentences in Figure 15. In business and
technical writing, your goal is to be friendly and polite, with-
out being too casual or too formal. As you can see from this
illustration, the stiff language in the formal version is more
difficult to read than that in the informal version. Also, the
formal version may actually seem offensive to many who read
it. On the other hand, the casual colloquial version is out of
place in business and technical writing.

Casual Informal Formal

(Colloquial and (Polite, but (Wordy and Stiff
Slang Usage) Conversational Tone) Language)
I was totally bummed out I was disappointed when It was with sincere disap-
when my boss nixed my my supervisor did not pointment that I learned
vacation. approve my vacation. my request for vacation
did not meet with my
supervisor’s approbation.

FIGURE 15—Here are three ways to say the same thing—from the extreme casual to the formal. In your business
and technical writing, strive for the middle ground of polite, but conversational. Above all, however, always keep
your audience in mind.

Avoid Pomposity
Pomposity is formality carried to extremes. Your business or
technical writing is likely to be considered pompous if you
use words like aforementioned instead of previous, ubiquitous
instead of widespread, superfluous instead of extra, or delete-
rious instead of harmful. Consider these two paragraphs:
Pompous: It has become evident through complaints prof-
fered to management that the resistance of employees to
standards of conformity with linguistic cafeteria decorum
has become ubiquitous and, thereby, has placed a delete-
rious burden on the cafeteria staff.

44 Using Words Well

Conversational: Some of us in the front office have been
receiving complaints about the frequent use of careless
language in the company cafeteria. Remember to be
courteous to your fellow employees, including the hard-
working cafeteria staff.
In general, to avoid seeming pompous in your writing, use
clear, plain language and a conversational tone (Figure 16).
Above all, remember that your objective is to convey clear,
logical, and accurate information.



FIGURE 16—If you speak or write in a pompous manner, your audience may lose interest because your information
is so difficult to follow. If you want to communicate effectively, use conversational language that’s familiar to your

Using Words Well 45

Eliminate Sexist Language
The sensitive and wise business or technical writer should
remember to use inclusive language. Doing so can be some-
thing of a problem in English, since not that long ago, writers
referred to mankind instead of humankind, and the pronoun
he served for both men and women. Study the following
Exclusive: When a worker completes his task, he should
Inclusive language return tools to the tool crib.
is that which doesn’t Inclusive: When workers complete their tasks, they should
discriminate against return tools to the tool crib.
an individual’s gender,
race, age, and so on. Simply changing the necessary nouns and pronouns to their
plural forms eliminated the exclusiveness in the first sentence.
When the people you’re addressing include both men and
women, always use inclusive language to refer to members
of the audience. In general, use gender-neutral pronouns
and alternative constructions, as shown in the following exam-
Sexist: During our Friday meeting, each supervisor will have
ten minutes to read his report.
Alternative: During our Friday meeting, supervisors will
have ten minutes to read their reports. (plural pronoun
and plural noun)
Alternative: During our Friday meeting, supervisors will
have ten minutes to read reports. (plural noun and
omitted pronoun)
Alternative: During our Friday meeting, each supervisor
will have ten minutes to read a report. (an article in
place of the pronoun)
Alternative: During our Friday meeting, each supervisor will
have ten minutes to read his or her report. (a masculine
and a feminine pronoun)
Although the final alternative is acceptable, it’s a bit awk-
ward. Whenever possible, use the other alternatives.
You should also be sensitive about sexist job titles like mail-
man, fireman, policeman, chairman, and salesman. Replace
them with gender neutral terms like letter carrier, firefighter,
police officer, committee chair, and salesperson.

46 Using Words Well

Use Words Properly
Words convey specific meanings. In your writing, you must
make sure to use words that say exactly what you mean. You
learn how to write by actually sitting down and writing. In
the same way, you learn how to use words correctly by being
diligent in finding their precise meanings. Remember, busi-
ness and technical writing should be practical, efficient, and
logical. To make your work as clear and as accurate as it can
be, you must avoid using words incorrectly. On the contrary,
you should strive to use the best word for each situation.
The following list includes words that are commonly misused.
Study these words and then make it a practice to use your
dictionary often. Even if you think you know the meaning of
a word and how to use it correctly, look it up. Regular use of
a dictionary is a good habit to form.
ability/capacity You may have the ability to perform well,
but not the capacity to perform well hour after hour.
Ability refers to competence; capacity refers to an amount
of something, given a specified space or time. (She has the
ability to become a professional pianist. He did not have
the capacity to complete the marathon.)
advise/tell To advise someone is to counsel, caution, or
warn; to tell is merely to relate information. You might
advise someone to avoid Jake in the accounting depart-
ment, while you might simply tell someone you’re going
to play golf on Sunday. (She asked me to advise her on
which car to buy. I like to listen to him tell stories about
his travels.)
affect/effect To affect means to influence the outcome; an
effect is the result of an influence of some sort. Affect is
almost always a verb; effect is usually a noun. (Will the
high price of raw materials affect the manufacturer’s profit?
The high winds had a devastating effect on small struc-
tures like mobile homes.)
among/between Among suggests distribution to three or
more; between limits distribution to two. (You must choose
the winner from among three contestants. The prize for the
contest must be shared between the two people with the
highest scores.)

Using Words Well 47

anticipate/expect To anticipate is to prepare for something
in advance, even if you’re uncertain it will take place; to
expect an event is to be assured that it will take place. (He
anticipates my needs and is always there to help me. I
expect my children to behave at other people’s homes.)
apparent/evident If something is apparent, it only seems
to be; if something is evident, it almost assuredly is. (The
afternoon weather is apparently going to be wet and rainy.
His anger made it evident that he didn’t agree with her.)
appreciate/understand To appreciate something is to recog-
nize its value; to understand something is to know how it
works. (The civil engineer appreciated the complexity of the
structure because he understood what went into building it.)
assume/presume To assume something is to take it on,
such as a mortgage or employment; to presume is to con-
clude without clear justification. (She will assume her new
position at the bank on Monday. You must presume the
innocence of suspects until they’re proven guilty.)
balance/remainder A balance is that which is currently
available; a remainder is that which is left after subtraction.
You may have a balance in your account regardless of
whether or not you’ve recently withdrawn money. Your
account remainder is what’s left after you’ve subtracted
your last expenditure. (The balance in her savings account
showed that she had saved enough to purchase a new
sound system. The students who wanted to see the movie
went to the gymnasium; the remainder stayed in their
room to play games.)
bimonthly/semimonthly Bimonthly means every two
months (six times a year); semimonthly means twice a
month (24 times a year). (The magazine is published
bimonthly [six times a year]. Elaine does her semimonthly
grocery shopping on Saturday.)
conclude/decide To conclude is to reach a decision based
on evidence; to decide is to consider any number of alter-
natives before choosing one. (Based on your knowledge of a
particular orchestra, you concluded that its concert will be
worth attending. Now, you must decide among alternative
ways of getting to the concert.)

48 Using Words Well

continual/continuous Continual means ongoing or in rapid
succession, such as the periodic chiming of a clock; contin-
uous means uninterrupted, as in the sustained sound of a
milling machine. (The country had a history of continual
invasions by their neighbors to the north. The cheering
from the crowd was continuous.)
cooperate/collaborate To cooperate means to work together,
but it may also mean to obey; to collaborate also means to
work together, but usually on a project that involves mental
rather than physical effort. (She’s always willing to cooperate
with the preparation of dinner. If you don’t cooperate [obey],
we’ll have to change our plans. I plan to collaborate with
Marie in writing a paper on the history of our university.)
deteriorate/degenerate If something deteriorates, it sinks
to a lower quality; if something degenerates, it returns to
an earlier or lower state of being. (The quality of service
at this bank has deteriorated. Leaves that fall during the
autumn gradually degenerate into mulch.)
encounter/experience To encounter is to meet, especially
by chance; to experience is to have a direct observation of
or participation in events. (Carol encountered Jake in the
new downtown restaurant. I experienced a feeling of great
pride as I watched my daughter graduate from college.)
essential/basic If something is essential, it’s necessary; if
something is basic, it’s fundamental, that is, it serves as
a starting point. (She was allowed to take only the bare
essentials on her backpacking trip. Students must learn
the basics of mathematics before they can expect to solve
complex equations.)
fewer/less Fewer means not as many in number; less
means a smaller amount of something. As a general rule,
use fewer to refer to things you can count and less with
things you can’t count. (Carla hit fewer homeruns than
Sharon. James had less paint than he thought he did.)
further/farther Farther has to do with physical distance;
further has to do with nonphysical things. (We traveled far-
ther that day than any other day of our trip. I must
consider your request further before I make a decision.)

Using Words Well 49

imply/infer To imply is to suggest something to someone
indirectly; to infer is to form a conclusion based on facts
or apparent evidence. (The speaker seemed to imply that
jobs will be cut in the next quarter. As I read his memo,
I inferred that he had already made his decision.)
learn/teach To learn is to gain knowledge; to teach is to
educate, that is, to give information to someone so he or
she may learn. (My latest challenge is to learn how to knit.
She can teach even the most difficult student.)
liable/likely Liable has to do with obligation and responsi-
bility; likely has to do with probability. (You may be liable
for damages if your car door damages another car in a
parking lot. You’re more likely to damage another’s car
door if you park improperly.)
maximum/optimum Maximum has to do with a limit;
optimum has to do with the most desirable level of quality or
performance. (The maximum speed limit may be 65 miles
an hour, but the optimum performance of your new sports
car permits a speed of 120 miles per hour.)
predicament/situation Predicament suggests an undesirable
state; a situation can be any set of circumstances you find
yourself in. (Our predicament was to find a way to get our
car out of the snow bank. We were in the envious situation
of having front seats for the performance.)
principle/principal A principle is a fundamental law or
guideline; a principal is an authority figure, such as a school
principal. As an adjective, the word principal means most
important. (The business was based on sound accounting
principles. The school principal decided to close the school
two hours early. The principal speaker at the banquet was
my brother’s high school football coach.)
reaction/opinion A reaction is a response to something
definite; an opinion is an idea, a belief, or a conviction.
(My immediate reaction was to ignore his embarrassing
question. In my opinion, the play accurately depicted the
assassination of President Lincoln.)

50 Using Words Well

theory/idea A theory is a suggested explanation for some
action, happening, or set of phenomena; an idea is a con-
cept or thought. (I have a theory about why people have
stopped buying our product, but I have no idea how to
improve sales.)
use/utilize Both use and utilize mean to employ something.
However, the word utilize also means to put into practical
use. (I can use the money I received for my birthday to buy
a new dress. The committee was unable to utilize the new
software in their old computers.)

Using Words Well 51

Self-Check 4
1. All of the following sentences contain weaknesses in diction. Rewrite each sentence
using the tools you learned in this section. For example, replace general terms with
concrete ones and informal words with more appropriate formal ones.
a. The survey evaluated the attitudes of each guy in our department.
b. A lot of my buddies from our gang were sacked because of their lousy production
c. My boss was too cheap to fork over the dough for the new lab equipment.
d. A girl came by to check out the inventory records.
e. The new drill presses have done a great job.
2. Some of the sentences below include misused words. Carefully read each sentence.
Cross out the errors and write the correct word above the mistakes. If all of the words
are used correctly, write “Correct” in the space provided. If necessary, consult the list
of misused words in this study unit.
_____ a. The increased work load had surprisingly positive affects on the employee
_____ b. The supervisor divided the project between Joe, Dave, and me.
_____ c. Our company’s president and the president of Abbott Electronic collaborated on
the report for the merger committee.
_____ d. From the description George gave at the meeting, we have decided that the
new computer software will make our jobs easier.
_____ e. We found a way to utilize the equipment donated to our small business.
_____ f. If you replace mica wafers with beryllium oxide wafers, you’re liable to get the
same results.
_____ g. In her speech at the department meeting, our supervisor inferred that if produc-
tion didn’t increase, a few workers may be dismissed.
_____ h. Susan’s theory was that all thermal conductors work equally well when used in
identical situations.
_____ i. When Stan Crawford went on vacation, I assumed his role as assistant produc-
tion coordinator.
_____ j. The transistor degenerated when the thermal joint compound failed to conduct
the heat rapidly to the heat sink.

Check your answers with those on page 56.

52 Using Words Well

Self-Check 1
1. The information in business writing is of a general
nature. It includes such things as letters, memos,

e-mails, forms, and employee appraisals.
Technical writing deals with information related to a
particular field like accounting, engineering, or computer
science. It includes such things as progress reports,
proposals, instructions, and feasibility reports.
2. In literature, style refers to the distinct way in which an
author uses words. In business and technical writing,
style refers to the basic writing principles for creating
practical, efficient, and logical communications.
3. A refers to abstract. In the beginning of a document, you
should tell your readers what you’re going to talk about.
B refers to body. In the body, you should put the details
of the information you want to pass on to your reader. C
refers to conclusion. In this part, you should summarize
what you’ve said in the body and attempt to get your
audience to agree with you.
4. Note: These sentences are just samples. Your answers
may be different.
a. I have located your document and will fax it to you
later today. Or, You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve located
your document and will fax it to you later today.
b. I sent your shipment on Friday, and you should have
it by Tuesday. Or, Your shipment left our plant on
Friday and should arrive at your office by Tuesday.

Self-Check 2
1. a. The Deckers didn’t come because their babysitter was
b. Our picnic ended when an army of ants invaded our
c. A stitch in time saves nine.
d. This year, our company expects a large increase in
e. Denise, his assistant, wrote these reports on the
progress of the project.
f. This is the first time he was able to pass the test.
2. Here are some possible answers.
a. The technician constructed the circuit and tested it.
b. Bradley checked out a book from the library.
c. Andrew performed the job according to the
d. The programmer was in need of assistance.
e. I like writing, I dislike dictation, and I hate typing.
3. a. More than 100 spectators watched as the car crashed
into the wall.
b. Technical and business writing is something anyone
can learn.
c. The repair technician had trouble with the installation
of the parts for the older model television set.
d. When the faucet dripped, I thought it was raining.
e. Sara likes spaghetti, but she loves ice cream.
4. a. The broken coffeemaker produced cold, weak coffee.
b. The elderly stockholder gave his substantial holdings
to a distant relative.
c. Ned works efficiently, but his poor attitude makes him
a risky employee.
d. The clogged carburetor caused many problems on
cold winter days.
e. Her favorite aspect of architectural drafting is the very
regular paycheck.

54 Self-Check Answers
f. True happiness, the distinguished professor told me
wisely, comes from May to August.
g. The weekend conference is in town today and
5. a. Either Building A or Building B will be demolished in
February to create additional parking space for the
faculty and students.
b. Both the tennis team and the soccer team won the
state championships for the second year in a row.
c. Karen decided to practice her music before she started
the homework for the next day.
d. At the corner of Church Street and Maple Avenue
stand a library and a bank, both of which were built
in the 1920s.
e. When the game is over, Donna and Helen will do the
laundry and set the table.

Self-Check 3
1. me (The object of a preposition must be in the objective
2. are (Two singular subjects connected by and take a plu-
ral verb.)
3. am (The word I is closer to the verb, so the verb must
agree with I.)
4. likes (Two singular subjects connected by or take a sin-
gular verb.)
5. Was (Tina is closer to the verb, so the verb must agree
with Tina.)
6. she (A pronoun used as a predicate nominative must be
in the subjective case.)
7. their (All refers to supervisors. Since supervisors repre-
sent something that can be counted, you should use a
plural verb.)
8. is (The subject of the sentence is the singular word
increase. Therefore, the verb must also be singular.)
9. needs (The subject of the sentence is the singular word
section. Therefore, the verb must also be singular.)

Self-Check Answers 55
10. is (The word physics looks plural, but it represents a sin-
gle branch of science. Therefore, it takes a singular verb.)
11. was (The term four days represents one unit of measure-
ment, so it takes a singular verb.)
12. have (Two singular subjects connected by and take a
plural verb.)
13. has (Two singular subjects connected by or take a singu-
lar verb. The word directors is the object of the
preposition of and therefore doesn’t affect the number of
the verb.)
14. are (The subject of the sentence, trees, is plural.)
15. was (In this sentence, the collective noun committee is
used in a singular fashion and takes a singular verb.)

Self-Check 4
1. Note: These are just sample answers. Your responses will
be different from those given here.
a. The employee morale survey administered on
November 16 evaluated the job satisfaction of each
member of our department. (Note: Be careful not to
replace guy with the sexist word man.)
b. Seven of my fellow production workers were dismissed
because their unexcused absenteeism resulted in a
38 percent decline in production.
c. My production supervisor refused to appropriate
funds for the new lab equipment.
d. An inventory control specialist from the central office
in Madison was sent to evaluate our inventory
e. The 124T Addison drill presses installed in March of
2001 have increased production 82 percent, decreased
downtime 90 percent, and initiated an overall expan-
sion of the production division.
2. a. The increased workload had surprisingly positive
effects on the employee morale.
b. The supervisor divided the project among Joe, Dave,
and me.

56 Self-Check Answers
c. Correct
d. From the description George gave at the meeting, we
have concluded that the new computer software will
make our jobs easier.
e. Correct
f. If you replace mica wafers with beryllium oxide
wafers, you’re likely to get the same results.
g. In her speech at the department meeting, our supervi-
sor implied that if production didn’t increase, a few
workers may be dismissed.
h. Correct
i. Correct
j. The transistor deteriorated when the thermal joint
compound failed to conduct the heat rapidly to the
heat sink.

Self-Check Answers 57

58 Self-Check Answers
Using Words Well


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.

For the quickest test results, go to


When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
this study unit, complete the following examination. Then submit
only your answers to the school for grading, using one of the exam-
ination answer options described in your “Test Materials” envelope.
Send your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it.
Do not wait until another examination is ready.

Questions 1–20: Select the one best answer to each question.

1. Which one of the following words is a verb?

A. Maintenance C. Cruel
B. Manufacture D. However

2. Of the following approaches to avoiding sexism in business and

technical writing, which one is likely to be most effective?
A. Avoid references to individuals.
B. Apologize for using he as a generic pronoun.
C. Use plural nouns and pronouns.
D. Use the neutral pronouns it or its.

3. What, if anything, should you do to correct the following sentence?
Our principal problem was that we had less people than necessary to obtain optimum
benefits from the program.
A. Nothing. The sentence is correct as it stands. C. Change less to fewer.
B. Change principal to principle. D. Change optimum to maximum.

4. In the sentence, “The report arrived too late to be of any value to me,” which word is a
A. report C. value
B. late D. me

5. Which one of the following sentences is most likely to engage a reader’s self-interest?
A. You’ll be happy to hear the news.
B. I have some good news to report.
C. There’s some good news to report.
D. My supervisor has told me some good news.

6. Consider the following sentence: “If you don’t file your travel report on time, you can’t
expect a timely reimbursement for expenses.” How does this sentence fail in terms of its
A. It fails to use a positive approach. C. It’s too pompous.
B. It’s too indirect. D. It fails to use inclusive language.

7. In general, on what stage of the writing process should you spend most of your time?
A. Writing your first draft C. Analyzing your audience
B. Revising your material D. Prewriting

8. In the sentence “Although the book was more than 50 years old, it still contained helpful
information,” the word Although is a(n)
A. verb. C. adjective.
B. preposition. D. conjunction.

9. Which one of the following pronouns correctly completes this sentence?

The class took _______ examinations in three separate rooms.
A. its C. his
B. their D. your

10. If you want to make your writing personal and direct, which one of the following pronouns
should you use?
A. He C. They
B. We D. You

60 Examination
11. Which one of the following subjects takes a plural verb?
A. Carol and Donald C. The children or the teacher
B. Either you or Denise D. Neither the top nor the bottom

12. The part of speech that answers the question “which one” is a(n)
A. preposition. C. adjective.
B. conjunction. D. adverb.

13. What is the best way to avoid misusing words in your business and technical writing?
A. Use only words you know.
B. Keep your sentences short.
C. Think in terms of your reader’s likely vocabulary.
D. Make frequent use of a dictionary.

14. In the sentence “Although Harry was concerned, the report that he wrote was overwhelm-
ingly approved,” what word is the antecedent of the pronoun that?
A. Harry C. wrote
B. report D. approved

15. In the most general terms, your basic objective in writing a business or technical document
of any kind is to convey
A. a value. C. meaning.
B. an idea. D. understanding.

16. In the sentence “Do you know whose book is lying on the conference room table?” which
word is a preposition?
A. whose C. on
B. lying D. table

17. What type of language should you use if you’re writing to a group of Ph.D.’s?
A. Plain, clear language C. Formal language
B. Technical jargon D. Pompous language

18. One way to make your business or technical writing concrete is to use
A. words that evoke emotions.
B. facts and figures whenever you can.
C. as few words as possible.
D. vivid words to describe your subject.

Examination 61
19. What, if anything, should you do to correct the following sentence?
He has the ability to affect the outcome, but he’s not likely to take that chance.
A. Nothing. The sentence is correct as it stands.
B. Change ability to capacity.
C. Change affect to effect.
D. Change likely to liable.

20. Which one of the following words is an example of a first-person pronoun?

A. She C. We
B. You D. They

62 Examination