Acronym Plurals

April 12, 2014

As a follow-up to yesterday’s tip about apostrophes to be used for possessives and not for plurals, George from the Houston Peanut Gallery asked me to address the plural of acronyms.

“I’ll use blowout preventers as an example. Which is correct when discussing multiple blowout preventers – BOPS, BOP’s or BOPs? I’ve seen them all.”

Good question, George. We’ll do it the way the SPE Style Guide says to do it:

“DO NOT use an apostrophe when forming the plural of figures, letters, years, abbreviations, etc.”

–       the 1920s
–       Do you want your cash in all $20s, or do you want some $5s and $10s?
–       got all As on her report card
–       BHAs and BOPs and ESPs

So mind your Ps and Qs, and only use apostrophes when you want to indicate a possessive.

The US DOE’s latest study is an interesting one.
The ESP’s main drawback is short run times under those conditions.

So the rule is the same for acronyms, initialisms, and full words: use an S for plural, use an ‘S for possessive.

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Wisdom consists not so much in knowing what to do in the ultimate as knowing what to do next.”

– Herbert Hoover, 31st American President (and before that, a professional mining engineer), 1874-1964

‘S or S’

April 9, 2014

I got a question from John out in the Peanut Gallery about the appropriate use of the “inverted comma.”

First off, John, that thing that looks like an upside-down comma is called an apostrophe. And as you have correctly noticed, sometimes it comes before the letter S, and sometimes it comes after the letter S when forming a possessive.

Here are the rules about using apostrophes with an S:

#1: Do not use an apostrophe to indicate a plural.

Bad Example: Open Sunday’s

Good Example: Open Sundays

#2: If the possessor is singular and does not end with the letters S, X, or Z, then you can use ‘S to form the possessive.

Example: Sunday’s weather is supposed to be sunny and warm.

#3: If the possessor is singular and does end with the letters S, X, or Z, then you only use an apostrophe to form the possessive (no S needed).

Examples: Japex’ and Invensys’ CEOs will be attending AAPG in Houston.

#4: If the possessor is plural and does not end with the letters S, X, or Z, use ‘S to form the possessive.

Example: The children’s toys were all over the floor.

#5: If the possessor is plural and does end with the letters S, X, or Z, use S’ to form the possessive.

Example: The students’ grades on this test were much better than on the last one.

#6: Possessive pronouns do not have any apostrophes.

Examples: his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs, whose

There’s another use of ‘S that’s a contraction (it’s not a possessive):

Three examples in the sentence above:
There is => There’s
That is => That’s
It is => It’s

Although it’s so small, the apostrophe’s a very versatile bit of punctuation!

Profound Quote of the Day:

“You always pass failure on your way to success.”

Mickey Rooney, American actor, 1920-2014

March 28, 2014

Here is a cute TED ED animation sent in by Don, an active member of the Peanut Gallery in Houston.
It’s about the Oxford comma, also called the Harvard comma or the serial comma.

At Occidental Petroleum, our style is to use the Oxford comma. Why? Because commas save lives.

Let’s eat Grandma.
Let’s eat, Grandma.

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Attention is the most precious nonrenewable resource.
Don’t ask for attention until you are ready to give value first.
Asking for someone’s attention comes with an obligation to deliver, to inform and enlighten.”
– Sally Hogshead, author of FASCINATE: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation

Font Selection

March 20, 2014

There are several things you should take into consideration when selecting which fonts to use for your writing project.

1)  What fonts will your reader likely have installed on the computer?
Some fancy lettering might look good or seem impressive, but if the recipient’s computer cannot display it because it is not installed, it will default to something more common. So use common fonts like Arial, Times Roman, or Calibri.

2)  How old is your audience?
Children require an uncomplicated font that is easy to read. Senior citizens require larger fonts (11 or 12 point type) with a clear, old-school typeface. Many experienced oil industry people fall into that latter category.

3)  How many fonts are needed?
Standard Engineer’s Answer: That depends.
Generally only a few fonts are needed, or even one family of fonts (e.g., Arial, Arial Narrow, Arial Black). Too many fonts can look busy and confusing, but having headlines be one font and the body text be another font is usually OK. It’s also good to use a different font or type size for captions and tables to distinguish them from the rest of the report.

4)  Should I use serif or sans serif fonts?
First, what the heck is a serif? No, it’s not an angel (that’s a seraph). Serifs are little feet at the bottom of a letter.

The Arial and Calibri fonts have no little feet or serifs, so it would be sans (French for “without”) serif. Sans serif fonts are especially good for big headlines, as are narrow fonts.

Times New Roman (like this) has serifs at the bottom of the letters. This makes the T look like it has a little platform or base. Such a serif font is quite legible and good for body text, but not as good for big headlines.

5)  Will the finished product be printed, or merely read on a computer screen?
If you are printing using letterpress, screen printing, embossing, or thermography, some fonts with very thin areas on the letters or very small openings in the letters might not come out as well as others. It’s best to do a test sample with the paper or T-shirt to be used in such cases. But for digital or offset printing with regular paper, you probably don’t have to
worry about which font to use, as long as the printer has it installed on the printing machine.

As for reading on the computer, just use a common font, as mentioned in #1. The reader can always change the font in Word to make it bigger or use a preferred, more legible font, but once it’s in a PDF document, most people have to settle for the font chosen by the author.

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Technology no longer consists just of hardware or software or even services, but of communities.
Increasingly, community is a part of technology, a driver of technology, and an emergent effect of technology.”
–  Howard Rheingold, American technology guru, b. 1947

Awhile vs. A While, Reprise

March 19, 2014

I ran across an error in the newspaper today (yes, I’m an old-school journalist who likes inky fingers).

Bad Example:
It worked for awhile.

I did a Tip of the Day on this three years ago, but we’ll do a quick refresher today.

The word “awhile” is an adverb meaning “for a while.”  The word “for” is built in.

The word “while” is a noun that means “an unspecified period of time.” The article “a” before it is your big clue as to its nounhood.
You can substitute the noun “week” for the noun “while” and your sentence will still make sense, but it won’t if you substitute “week” for the adverb “awhile.”

Noun Example:  It worked for a while.  It worked for a week.

Adverb Example:  It worked for awhile.  It worked for week.

You can get away without ever using “awhile” if you always use “for a while.”

Shared Tip of the Day from Rhonda Bracey at CyberText Newsletter:

If you Ctrl+click on a cross-reference in Word [e.g., see Figure 1] to jump to the target location [Fig. 1], did you know that
you can go back to your previous location by pressing Alt+left arrow key? I always knew there had to be a way to jump back to where you were!

And if you’ve jumped to several cross-reference locations one after the other, pressing the Alt+left arrow key multiple times will take you back through the cross-references you clicked in reverse order.

BONUS: Pressing Alt+right  arrow key straight after you’ve pressed Alt+left arrow will take you back to the previous location!

I just love sharing such useful stuff with hundreds of fans out there in the Peanut Gallery.
If you would like to thank Rhonda personally for sharing this valuable tip, please visit her blog and comment:

Funny Irish Quote of the Day:

“Geographically, Ireland is a medium-sized rural island that is slowly but steadily being consumed by sheep.”
– Dave Barry, American humor columnist and author, b. 1947

Amount vs. Number

March 7, 2014

I’ve done a few writing tips on “countable” words in the past, so file this one in the same folder.

“Amount” is used for a  quantity of a mass of uncountable stuff, such as a small amount of cement or a  large amount of snow.

“Number” is used for a quantity of countable items,  such as a number of centralizers or a number of snow shovels.

Bad Example:
The amount of centralizers used on the well was not proportional to the amount of cement used for other wells in that field.

In this example, the first “amount” should be “number,” because you can count exactly how many
centralizers were used. These are listed on the purchase order with a number in front of them, and when they were delivered, they were counted before somebody signed for them.

The second “amount” is OK, because we don’t know exactly how much cement was used, as this is more of a quantity of mass, rather than discretely countable things. Unless someone actually did the calculations, then you could report the “number” of bags of cement.

Corrected Examples:
1)  The number of centralizers used on the well was not proportional to the amount of cement used for other wells in that field.
2)  The number of centralizers used on the well was not proportional to the number of bags of cement used for other wells in that field.

One exception to this general rule is “amount of money.” You may protest: “Many people count
money all day long, so why wouldn’t this be countable?” Well, because money can be a mass of coins of various sizes and bills of various denominations, so the heap would be a mass quantity, or an amount.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which I keep within arm’s reach (even closer than the
phone!), sums it up nicely:
“Number is regularly used for count nouns, while amount is usually used with mass nouns.”

Profound Quote of the Day:
“If advertisers spent the same amount of money on improving their products as they do on advertising, then they wouldn’t have to advertise them.”
–  Will Rogers, American actor and humorist, 1879-1935

Where Did My File Folder Go??

March 5, 2014

Have you ever panicked (note: not “paniced”) when the online folder containing your most important files suddenly disappears from the directory where it was only a few minutes ago? Rather than screaming “OMG” and calling up the IT Help Desk, take a deep breath, maintain your calm, and do the following as methodically as possible, and you will find
it. Trust me.

Plan A: Check the folders above and below where the missing folder used to be. Just double-click on them to open them and see if the folder is there. Sometimes – especially when your mouse hand is tense – you can accidentally click and drag an entire folder into a neighboring folder. So check two or three folders above and below, and if you find it, just click and drag it back into the parent folder where it belongs.

Plan B: If you don’t find your folder at the neighbor’s residence, go to the directory above the parent folder and in the upper right search box (with the magnifying glass) type in the
missing folder’s exact name. Then be very, very quiet. And patient. And long-suffering. Take a sip of coffee. After a long, long time, the search engine will have gone through all the folders in that directory to find where your missing folder ended up. Move it back to where it was supposed to be, and breathe a sigh of relief.

Plan C: Scream “OMG” and call the IT Help Desk. They will surely find your folder in yesterday’s backup.

Fortunately, Plan A has worked for me once, and Plan B has worked for me once. I’ve never had to resort to Plan C… yet.

Profound Quote of the Day:

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
–  Graham Greene, British playwright, 1904-1991

Redlining a PowerPoint Slideshow

March 2, 2014

I learned something cool today!

Did you know that you can turn your arrow cursor into a pen, a felt tip pen, or a highlighter during your PowerPoint presentation to mark up
the slide? And then make it disappear with the push of a button? It’s true, it’s true!

This can only be done while you are in Slideshow mode, not in slide creation mode. Just right-click on the slide, and when the menu comes up,
choose Pointer Options, and select either Ballpoint Pen for a fine line, Felt Tip Pen for a thicker line, or Highlighter for a really thick line. You can choose the ink color there, too. Of course, as an editor I would choose a red felt tip pen so I can bleed all over bad examples of writing up on the screen, making my proofreader’s marks to show how this is done.

To make it all go away before the next presentation, just press the letter E key, and POOF! It all disappears faster than Girl Scout cookies in the break room! To switch back from felt tip pen to arrow pointer, just do [Ctrl] + [A]; then to toggle back to the pen, do [Ctrl] + [P].

One final bit of magic: if you move your mouse to the lower left corner of the screen, a little marker will appear. If you click on this, you can toggle back and forth between the pen of your choice and the arrow pointer. How cool is that?!

Oh, I’m going to have fun with this new capability!

Who Whom Kolache tip of the day slide










A Few Little Things

February 5, 2014

Y’all get three mini-tips for the price of one today.

1)      I prefer X ___ Y
I’ve seen several prepositions used to fill in this blank, including “than” and “over.” The correct preposition is “to.”
Example:  I prefer chocolate to vanilla.
You can use “rather than” if the resulting sentence has too many “to” words in it, such as when comparing infinitives.
Example: I prefer to stand on the escalator rather than to climb.
(Sounds much better than: I prefer to stand on the escalator to to climb.

2)      Inclusive of….
Inclusive means that something includes the endpoints or something extra.
Example: The Teen Dance is open to ages 13 to 18, inclusive.
Example: The certified, pre-owned Lexus cost less than $40,000, inclusive of tax, title, and license.
In most cases, you can just use the word “including” after a comma and space.
Example: Make sure you put all the parts, including the O-rings, in the plastic bag for shipping.
“Inclusive of the O-rings” sounds much more stilted than “including.”
KISS = Keep It Short and Simple.

3)      The Slash, Revisited
In most cases, the slash means “either/or” or “and/or”; rarely does it mean “both.”
Bad Example: Make sure you have the dimensions/tolerances from the manufacturer.
Certainly you want to have both the dimensions and the tolerances, not just one or the other.
If you want both, ask for both. Make it a compound object: change the slash to “and.”
Corrected Example: Make sure you have the dimensions and tolerances from the manufacturer.

And A Two-Fer Quote of the Day:

“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”
– Thomas Jefferson, American President and founding father, 1743-1826

“As far as I’m concerned, I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.”
– Albert Einstein, German physicist, 1879-1955

Spell It Out

February 1, 2014

Sometimes you need to abbreviate words on a form to make sure everything fits in there properly. But if you can fit the whole word in there, then by all means, please spell it out.

For example, today I saw a form that had the following:

Rot Face ____    Stat Face ____     Shft OD Spec _____

I had to laugh; Rot Face sounds like a great name for a punk rock band – or possibly a supreme insult to an older sister from a little brother.

There was plenty of room on that line of the form to spell out Rotor Face, Stator Face, and Shaft OD Spec. Whoever is filling out the form will
be far more likely to include the correct information if things are spelled out. That person will not have to wonder if Stat Face means Statistical Face or Static Face or Stationary Face and have to go find the supervisor to ask what Stat Face is supposed to mean. Even interns will leave it blank rather than appear stupid because they did not know and were afraid to ask.

And that brings me to the Funny Typo of the Day, which I saw on that same form:
O’Rings – these must be Irish O-rings, the kelly green kind.
O-rings follow the same rule as X-ray, Y-axis, and J-function: the first solitary letter is capitalized, followed by a hyphen, and the word after the hyphen is all lower case.


In memory of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded January 28, 1986, due to O-ring failure in the right Solid Rocket Booster:

“I touch the future. I teach.”
–  Christa McAuliffe, American schoolteacher and astronaut, 1948-1986