Spelling and grammatical errors have been known to keep me up at night. I’ve refused to read an article I’ve written after it’s been published for fear that I wrote “its” instead of “it’s” or “there” rather than “their.” I’ve read and reread texts before I’ve sent them to make sure everything was spelled correctly, and I’ve edited Facebook posts repeatedly for clarity. Although I might seem a tad overly cautious, the truth is when it comes to your company’s correspondence and collateral, mistake-free spelling and grammar can indicate your keen attention to detail and professionalism.

While writing may be my trade, truth be told, I’m no grammarian. Commas confound me, and I’ve been known to dangle a modifier or two, which is why I have the utmost respect for professional proofreaders and copy editors and use them regularly. So I asked two copy editors to provide me with their biggest pet peeves when it comes to business writing, and they graciously agreed. Here is their advice, complete with a little tongue-in-cheek grammar smackdown thrown in for good measure.


Don’t use two spaces after a period. Typewriters used monospace type (i.e., every character took up an equal amount of horizontal space) so readability depended on distinguishing sentences with two spaces in between. But are you still writing your correspondence on a typewriter? I didn’t think so. One space is correct.

Don’t use "couple" as an adjective. We’re not in the movie Goodfellas. “I had to see a couple guys about a couple cement jobs.” "Couple" is a noun, according to Merriam- Webster, that indicates “an indefinite small number,” and it takes a preposition. Add the "of," or I will send Vito to break your legs. “I had to see a couple of guys about a couple of cement jobs.” Or use “few” instead.

Don’t use hyphens unnecessarily. There’s no need to garnish your words with hyphens like bacon bits on a salad. Multi-, un-, non-, anti-, and other prefixes should be closed up unless they come before a capitalized word or contain two repeating vowels that would make the word hard to read (e.g., “A nonprofit, multimember anti-Paleo group asked for red wine with dinner because of its anti-inflammatory effect”). There are some exceptions, so consult a dictionary when in doubt.

Do use i.e. and e.g. correctly. In formal writing i.e. (“that is”) and e.g. (“for example”) should be confined to parentheses and followed by a comma.


Do use acronyms correctly. There is the misconception among some writers that just because a series of words or a phrase happens to have an acronym, then the words or phrase itself should have initial capital letters. Not so! If the words comprise a proper noun, (i.e., the formal name of something), by all means, capitalize those initial letters. For example: ISES is the acronym for the International Special Events Society; and MPI is short for Meeting Professionals International. However, POS, spelled out, is “point of service”; DBA is “doing business as”; ATM is “automated teller machine”; and EOD is “end of day”—all lowercase.

Do not use all capital letters for emphasis. There appears to be a growing trend among businesses and organizations, particularly on their websites, to treat their business and product names with all capital letters as a way to draw the reader’s attention to them. Such capitalization is for acronyms only. The only exception would be if the company has copyrighted a particular name as all caps. In fact, copyrights and trademarks provide the definitive answers to any questions regarding quirky name spellings (e.g., Airbnb, GeekWire).

Do use apostrophes correctly. Know how to use them, please! “It’s” means “it is”; “its” is possessive, meaning belonging to “it.” An apostrophe could mean the difference between telling your clients you know “your sh*t” and telling them you know “you’re sh*t.”

Five Tips for Proofing Your Own Writing

The best way to ensure that your work is as grammatically perfect and as free of misspellings as possible is to have someone else review it for you—preferably a professional proofreader or copy editor. Barring that, here are a few steps that you can take on your own: 

» Spellcheck. It may seem like a proofing no-brainer, but many people skip this simple step.
» Read it out loud to yourself. You’ll be amazed at how many errors you can catch by doing this.
» Read a hard copy. Perhaps this is just me, but I am more prone to find errors if I am reading a hard copy than if I’m reviewing an article or letter on the computer screen.
» Read the article or marketing copy from end to beginning. This will force you to focus on each word.
» Put it aside. Write the email, letter, article or brochure; proof it; and then put it aside for the time being. Reread the piece in a few hours—or even the next day, if you have time.

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