If your job is writing—whether it’s content marketing, creative essays, or technical handbooks—you know the value of clean copy in improving your readers’ experience and getting your point across succinctly. You likely also know the value of a good style guide toward that aim. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is one of the most respected and comprehensive style guides available, but let’s be honest—it’s a bit thick. Our “Unpacking CMOS” series attempts to demystify Chicago’s seventeenth edition and make its content more accessible to writers looking to improve their work.
Good versus Common Usage
Today we’re reviewing CMOS 5.250, “Good usage versus common usage.” One of the lengthiest sections in CMOS’s seventeenth edition, 5.250 illuminates tricky words and phrases that are commonly used incorrectly in American writing. Learning the proper style for these terms will ensure you don’t confuse your readers and embarrass yourself with erroneous word choice. What’s more, many of these tips will make your writing more concise, limit your word count, and more clearly communicate your ideas.
Section 5.250 largely deals with misspellings, homophones, word-form confusions, grammar, and indirect phrasing. If you find yourself asking any of the following questions, this section can help.
Three Questions CMOS 5.250 Can Help Answer
Can this sentence be written more succinctly?
Good writing should be concise. We’ve all felt our eyes glaze over at needlessly wordy sentences, but wordiness frequently slips into our own writing. Some of that stems from casual, spoken turns of phrase that don’t translate well into writing. Other wordy phrases arise from writing indirectly to sound more formal or simply misunderstanding where a word fits into a sentence grammatically.
Let’s look at a few phrases that should be shortened.
|After having [+ past participle]||After [+ present participle].|
|As yet or as of yet||Yet, still, so far, etc.|
|Due to the fact that||Because|
|In actual fact||Actually (or eliminate altogether)|
|Inasmuch as||Because or since|
|In regard to||About, concerning, etc.|
|In the near future||Soon or shortly|
As you can see, writers can often turn a multiword phrase into a single word with no loss in meaning, allowing readers to work less to understand their thoughts. (It’s great for shortening social media posts too!) Read through 5.250 for even more examples.
Is my chosen word or phrase nonstandard?
A good handful of words we use in everyday speech are technically not legitimate words (referred to as nonstandard in CMOS). The unacceptable ain’t is rarely seen in writing, but other incorrect words are still commonly found, such as irregardless. These nonstandard words should be replaced by the similar-sounding correct words that carry the intended meaning.English is rife with homophones. Mixing up words that sound similar but have different meanings can weaken your authority on a topic. Click To Tweet
A few examples include the following.
|Between you and I||Between you and me|
|Center around||Center on or revolve around|
|Close proximity||Close; proximity|
|Could care less||Couldn’t care less|
|In regards to||In regard to (but see above on wordiness)|
If you’re frequently tripped up by some of these, you may want to check 5.250 for more examples. Or maybe you’ll just want to share our article with that friend or colleague who often opines how he “could care less.”
Is this the correct word for what I intended?
English is rife with homophones, or words that sound similar but have different meanings. Add to that words that have the same root but different meanings, terms with nontraditional noun and adjective forms, and British and American versions of the same words, and English can become quite confusing. Mixing up these troublesome words can cause your reader to second-guess your intentions or—worse yet—your authority on a topic.
Thankfully, CMOS 5.250 offers many examples of these words and their correct meanings. Do any of the following confuse you?
This list isn’t exhaustive, so refer to a dictionary and to CMOS 5.250 if you know you need help in this area.
Effective Writing Follows Rules for Good Usage
Understanding and following standards for good usage will bring greater consistency, quality, and authority to your writing. If you’re like us, you may want to keep CMOS 5.250 bookmarked for easy reference.
Do you need extra help eliminating common errors and making your writing more concise? We can help. Contact the Scribe Source today for professional editing and proofreading.
About the Author
Jordan is a freelance copywriter and business blogger who joined the Scribe Source team in 2018. While she is a prolific B2B and B2C content developer, she also has a master’s degree in geological sciences and is adept at developing scientific content. Jordan also works as an English tutor, teaching literary analysis to youth. She can frequently be found working on her own fiction or helping other writers develop their stories.