It is tempting to use capital letters in our business writing, as we feel it gives an element of importance to the thing in question. But then we tie ourselves in knots. If we write about the Director of the Organisation, do we also write about the Cleaner of the Office or the Teacher at the School? Where do we draw the line? My view is that these sorts of lines are dangerous – assigning more importance to some things than others can get us in all sorts of trouble. And if you decide to capitalise a job, role or group on page 2 of your report, you'd better make sure you've capitalised it on page 20 as well. As I said: we can tie ourselves in knots.
Don't be afraid to stick to lower case. You'll find that many newspapers and websites are following the trend towards minimum capitals too. Take a look at the 'capitals' entry in the Guardian and Observer style guide if you are unsure.
I try to avoid this by switching perspectives: I put myself in my readers' shoes. Who are my audience? What do they know before reading my document? What do I want them to do or know as a result of reading my document? If your text is for the general public (for example, a marketing leaflet), then don't assume anything. Be clear and succinct, using plain language. It's sure to get you more results. Again, don't be afraid of putting things simply – flowery language and 'business speak' often make it look like you're hiding something (or have nothing important to say), rather than having your intended effect of sounding more professional.
The best test would be to get a real second perspective from a friend, family member, colleague or professional. Ideally, this would be someone typical of your eventual audience.
However, I also believe that specialist language does have its place in business writing. This is fine only if you're sure your audience understands all the terminology and will be able to act in the intended way after reading it. So, if you're a medical professional writing a report only for the eyes of your own department, it would actually be simpler to write using specific terms relating to specific conditions, parts of the anatomy, or procedures, rather than spelling everything out in common (but more vague) language. Once again, it's all about considering your audience.
The apostrophe causes a lot of grief for everyone – for those who struggle with working out exactly where it should go, and for those who want to cry when they walk past a restaurant advertising pizza's and chips for childrens party's. Some have even advocated that we get rid of the apostrophe in order to avoid these problems and arguments. The retailer Waterstones famously caused an outcry when it dropped its apostrophe in 2012.
Use apostrophes in contractions (shortened words) where the letter is missing: don't (do not); haven't (have not); I'm (I am); you've (you have); it's (it is or it has). Note that the apostrophe doesn't come where the space would go (do'nt).
Think about whether contractions are okay to use in your document. Is it a catchy marketing piece for the public or a formal report to the board of directors? Certainly don't shy away from using contractions (as long as they are used properly), but do consider any etiquette that might apply.
Use apostrophes to indicate possession: Lisa's blog; the dog's biscuits; Daddy's coat.
Now most of the confusion I see is where the owner of the thing is plural (more than one), and especially if that plural is irregular and doesn't just include an extra 's'. So if the above-mentioned biscuits belonged to more than one dog, they would be the dogs' biscuits. Here, the apostrophe helps you to determine the context – whose actually are these biscuits?
But if the biscuits belonged to more than one child instead of more than one dog, what do you think? ... They would be the children's biscuits. The reason for this is that children is already the plural of child, just as dogs is the plural of dog, so it just needs that apostrophe and 's' to indicate possession.
There's also a lot of confusion about where to use possessive apostrophes when the word ends in 's', whether this is singular or plural. So we saw the dogs' biscuits above, and this is fine. But what about biscuits belonging to James or a group of ladies? ... Well these would be James's biscuits or the ladies' biscuits. Generally, use the rule that if you pronounce the extra 's' when you say it out loud, write an extra 's' after the apostrophe. There will sometimes be exceptions to this, depending on preferred style, but it is certainly a good rule of thumb.
Don't use apostrophes to indicate possession for its, hers, yours and theirs: the biscuits were theirs; this is mine and that is yours; its petals are yellow. This is confusing if you always have the 'possession needs an apostrophe' rule in your head! Sorry! The its versus it's choice should be governed by remembering that it's (with the apostrophe) can only mean a shortening of it is or it has.
Don't use apostrophes for plurals: pizzas; parties; chips; dogs; ladies; apostrophes.
Got it? Get in touch if I've confused you even more!
If you followed the last section, then you should find this one a doddle! When we're writing, we often say the words in our heads, so when we get to a homophone (a word that sounds the same as another but is written differently and has a different meaning), our internal voice can easily override what our eyes actually see.
You're being very optimistic wearing your shorts today!
Over there, they're having their picnic.
Who's going to decide whose car we are going in today?