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Style guide


This style guide has two purposes.

First, it is the style guide that I use for writing the Consulting Journal. A written publication needs consistency, and I intend the style guide to give this to the Consulting Journal.

Second, it is a style guide that a consulting company or a single consultant can adapt for their own use, to build consistency within all of their reports to clients. There are some entries that you may reject. There are some entries that you may reverse, so that you reject my chosen alternative.


The style guide does not attempt to describe English grammar. It does contain my preferred choices for writing, and some of these are included simply because I prefer them.

You should not assume that anything in the style guide is “right”.


This style guide is about consulting. I have not made entries in it unless I think that they are relevant to consulting. So, I may have opinions about many other words and phrases, but, if they are not likely to be used in the Consulting Journal or in a consultant's report to a client, then they are not in here. This may make the style guide more valuable to a consulting company or an consultant than a more general style guide.


The style guide is in two columns. If a single word or phrase appears in the left column without any text to the right, then the preferred spelling or punctuation is shown.


Use an where the h is silent.
eg, an hour but a hero. Note especially a hotel.

Use an before an abbreviation or acronym that starts with a vowel sound,
eg, an NGO project but a NATO project.

For a verb, use gain access.
When referring to information, it can be read, written, inserted or updated.

Not amidst.

Not amongst

biannual, biennial
Biannual: twice a year.
Biennial: once every two years.
Avoid them and use clear alternatives.
eg, This occurs twice a year.

Britain: official short form for United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Great Britain: the main island of Britain, including England, Scotland and Wales.

Compare to means that you are looking for similarities.
eg, The proposals were short-listed by comparing them to our requirements.

Compare with means that you are looking for differences.
eg, Some proposals were eliminated by comparing them with our requirements.

Not comprise of. Comprise means consist of.
eg, The package comprises several functions.

Criteria is plural.
Criterion is singular.

Data is plural but it can take a singular verb on occasion.
eg, The data has all been collected.
This is part of British and American English that is still evolving. I recommend that you use the verb form that sounds best to you. You can add emphasis by using the plural. The data are being collected gives a strong impression of ongoing action.

Use British English or American English spellings, as appropriate.
American: the Department of Defense.
British: the Ministry of Defence.
It is confusing for a British writer to refer to the Department of Defence.

different from

Disinterested means having no interest, impartial. Not uninterested.

double negative
Use double negatives carefully. Make sure that your readers can work out the logic easily.
There is also the possibility of imprecision. If I write I do not think that your actions will not solve the problem, it has a different meaning from I think that your actions will solve the problem.

The first sentence is the kind of statement that consultants should avoid using. It can convey an impression of a lack of precision or commitment or knowledge.

Gerunds are like nouns. They should have a possessive such as my rather than a pronoun such as me.
eg, I do not approve of your treating gerunds like verbs.

Gerunds can often be used to avoid clumsiness.
eg, We agree with your presenting the case is better than We agree that you should present the case. Note also the difference in meaning from We agree with your presentation of the case, which implies approval of the content of the presentation.

Historic actually means memorable. Even then it can be overused.
In many instances, historical is correct.
eg, We shall keep a historical record of the user acceptance tests.

Kind is preferable to sort and type.

Care should be taken with kinds.
This kind of animal means animals of this kind, with a single kind that can include several animals.
These kinds of animals means animals of these kinds, with several kinds each of which can include several animals.
Animals of this kind or animals of these kinds make the context clear.

On the length of sentences, follow this description of a writer by Mark Twain: ‘At times he may indulge himself with a long one, but he will make sure there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole; when he has done with it, it won't be a sea serpent with half of its arches under the water; it will be a torch-light procession.’.

Like can cause ambiguity.
I want to buy a car like yours means that I want to buy a car similar to yours. It does not include the possibility of my buying your car.
I want to employ a consultant like the candidate means that I want to employ someone such as the candidate. It does include the possibility of employing the candidate.
If the meaning of the sentence is not clear, then re-phrase it.

Mitigate means reduce the effect of.
In writing about risk, consultants sometimes use it wrongly to mean reduce the probability of a risk or eliminate the effects of a risk. Both are incorrect.

negative clauses
I think that your actions will not solve the problem has a different meaning from I do not think that your actions will solve the problem. Be careful that you convey your opinion precisely.

Do not use on to mean because of, as in Share prices eased on the announcement.

opposite to
Never opposite from.
eg, Our theory is opposite to current practice.

As its meanings include plain and uninteresting, avoid using it to describe people.
You can use it to comment unfavourably, as in In an ordinary office, these methods might be acceptable.

Avoid. Use over or too.

Overwhelm means defeat completely or crush.
Do not use as in He is overwhelmed by paperwork.

This is one of the most abused words in consultants' writing. If you have an opinion or have reached a conclusion, then that is what you should say.

You will have a perception of something if you are aware of its existence through your senses.
eg, We perceive that you have financial controls.
You reach a conclusion about something as a result of your reasoning.
eg, We conclude that you have ineffective financial controls.

In most correct uses of perceive, it can be replaced by observe, which sounds more modern.

perfect tense
Use the perfect tense wherever it conveys the meaning better.
It can be used where the action of the verb has occurred over a period a time.
eg, We have noticed the problem during the past month rather than We noticed the problem during the past month.

The plural of person is people, not persons.
Beware of writing no person when no one would be better. No person can sound officious.

Not PIN number.
In upper case, PIN is easily distinguished from a pin.

Inanimate objects generally cannot possess anything.
Use the work of five years rather than five years' work.

practicable, practical
Practical means useful or easy to do or both and impractical means useless or hard to do or both.
Practicable means that its subject can be done, and impracticable means that it cannot be done.
One plan may be practicable without being practical; another may be impractical without being impracticable.

The verb reform can mean change or improve. If the meaning is not clear from the context, use another word.
eg, The reforming legislation certainly changed the industry, but it did not improve it.

Re-form may be an alternative to describe a major change rather than some minor amendments.
eg, We recommend that you re-form your financial controls.

Refute means disprove, not argue against.

It is better to avoid both refute and rebut, which does mean argue against.

A stalemate is the end of the game, with neither side winning. Use deadlock instead for an ongoing situation.
eg, We have reached a stalemate but not We are in a stalemate.

The subjunctive case of a verb is used to propose a hypothesis, as in If I were you, I would tell him. If the subjunctive has been used in the main clause, as in I would tell him, then it must be used in the conditional clause, as in If I were you, I would tell him.

that, which
That is used to define.
Which is used to add information.
eg, The report that you wrote describes your strategy and The report, which I have read, describes your strategy.

Do not leave out the unnecessarily from job titles. Beware especially of this occurring when someone's nationality is stated.
eg, Use the American president, Barack Obama, or Barack Obama, the American president, instead of American president Barack Obama or Barack Obama, American president,.

Try to, not try and.

If AD or BC is used, it is written as AD1948 or 54BC, but the first century AD.

Capitals, lower case, upper case

Use lower case for acronyms that are pronounced as a word.
eg, laser.

Capitalize the first letter of proper nouns.
eg, Nato.

Use upper case for acronyms that are spelt like another word.
eg, PIN, SALT.

The initial b is capitalized only if referring to the book of the Old and New Testaments.
eg, the programmer's bible

Lower case.

book titles
Write book titles as normal text, with initials capitalized.
eg, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.
Do not use italics or quotation marks.

The capitalized initial is correct for Parliament and Congress. For a local authority, use the council.
Some local authorities incorrectly and arrogantly refer to themselves as Council.

Names of currencies should be lower case.
eg, euro, dollar, New Zealand dollar.

Directions are always lower case.
eg, north, the north-west of England, south-east Scotland.
Care is needed when the subject is a named place, such as the West Midlands instead of a general area, such as the west midlands of England.

Words like the government and the cabinet do not have capitalized initials.

Job titles are in lower case.eg, prime minister, chief executive.
Some jobs award titles.
eg, the president but President Bush.

Write newspaper and magazines titles as normal text, with initials capitalized.
eg, the Spectator, the New York Times.
Do not use italics or quotation marks.
A leading the does not have its initial capitalized.

Seasons do not have their initial capitalized.
eg, summer

Initial capital for titles.
eg, President Bush, the Prince of Wales.

Note that the Duke of Buckingham will be subsequently referred to as the duke. The single exception to this is the Queen when referring to the British monarch.

For World Wide Web.

World Wide Web


No hyphen should be inserted between an adverb and the adjective or participle that it qualifies.
eg, a generally accepted principle.

Commas separate names from roles when there is only one person in the role.
eg, The Consulting Journal editor, David Blakey, is a writer and The writer David Blakey is the Consulting Journal editor.

The prefix pre needs a hyphen when the word it qualifies begins with e or i.
eg, pre-eminent.
A hyphen is also needed when an unhyphenated form already exists, with a different meaning.
eg, pre-position to avoid confusion with preposition.

The prefix re needs a hyphen when the word it qualifies begins with e.
eg, re-elect.
A hyphen is also needed when an unhyphenated form already exists, with a different meaning.
eg, re-collect to distinguish it from recollect.

Usually no hyphen.
eg, underestimate, understatement.
Exceptions are in titles.
eg, under-secretary.


When the extension -able is added to words that end with a soft -ce, -dge or -ge, they retain the e.
eg, serviceable, knowledgeable, manageable.





all right
Not alright.





arm's length
At arm's length.






Also CD-rom, CD-R, CD-RW.

check in

Noun or adjective.
eg, the check-in desk.

common sense





Avoid forming new words with de- as a prefix before an existing word.
eg, Disassemble is better than de-construct.





eg, ie
Follow eg and ie with a comma. Treat them as if you were writing For example, or That is,.

Email is both (1) the facility for sending and receiving email messages and (2) an individual email message.
eg, We depend upon email. and We have received your email.



People have a gender. A person may always be identified as he or she.

Animals preferably do not have a gender. An animal should be called it unless there is a strong - and extremely rare - reason for using he or she.

Objects never have a gender. A ship or car is it, not she.

This single unhyphenated word expresses clearly that the page is the first page that a visitor will encounter on a website if they enter an unqualified URL.
eg, The Consulting Journal homepage is www.ConsultingJournal.com.



no one
Not no-one.

place names
In general, use the English version of foreign place names, such as Germany instead of Deutschland.
For place names in English, use the American or British name, as appropriate. In British English, use Pearl Harbor, not Pearl Harbour.




short term
eg, in the short term.

eg, a short-term plan.






Tactics is singular or plural.




up to date
Not hyphenated.
eg, This report is up to date.
It should be hyphenated if it is used in this up-to-date report, but current is better.

Also usability, reusable


Brand name of the Wi-Fi Alliance.


Omit periods from abbreviations except for people's names, which do not have spaces between initials.
eg, USA, Mr, etc, but W.A. Mozart.

Preferred to acknowledgment

Preferred to advisor.

Preferred to aging.

Use only for the list of items in a meeting.

Alternate means every other.
eg, David and I will put forward alternate ideas means that David and I will take it in turns to put forward an idea each.
David and I will put forward alternative ideas means that David and I will put forward different ideas.

Alternatives are two options.
eg, David and I will put forward alternative ideas, but Anna, David and I will put forward a choice of ideas.
This is especially useful in consulting, as there may be several options or choices for doing something, but there is often the alternative of doing something else.

apt to
Use tends to or change the sentence to use often instead. Apt to is weak.
eg, He tends to procrastinate or He often procrastinates.

black, in the
Use in profit instead.

Preferable to chairperson.
A chair is a seat, not a person.

The Consulting Journal uses the British word colour for general use.
Most coding languages use the American word color. This makes it easy to distinguish between the two.
eg, The background-color on the site is a colour chosen by the viewer.

Not connexion.

Use consultancy only for the process or practice of consulting, not for an individual consulting firm or company.
eg, We are an experienced consulting company, although We are experienced consultants would be better, as consulting is performed by individuals rather than organizations.

The following should be avoided, except when their use has a particular purpose: isn't, won't, aren't, don't, etc.
There is a familiarity about these words that may have a negative effect in a consultant's report.
There are occasions when using these terms in the Consulting Journal does help to emphasize a point.

For curriculum vitae.
Used in preference to résumé.

Dates are shown in one of the following formats.
22 August 2003 for normal text.
22-Aug-2003 for date-stamps.
Dates using only numbers should be avoided.

Years are based on the Christian numbering system by default.
eg, 2003.

Years can be shown with a prefix to show alternative systems.
eg, AD2003, AH1424.
For a year in an alternative system, it is usual to provide the equivalent Christian year in parenthesis. If there are two equivalent Christian years; only one should be given.
eg, AH1424 (AD2003).

Not despatch. But send is usually better.

Strictly, ERP stands for enterprise resource planning.
Enterprise-wide system is better.
Enterprise system may be used.

Use the noun effect or the verb affect where appropriate. Impact conveys the sense of a collision.
eg, The new competitor may have an impact on our market share describes a rapid, powerful effect, and The new competitor may have an effect on our market share describes a longer, less powerful effect.

Not enquiry.

The Consulting Journal uses -ize for verbs associated with nouns ending with -ation, -ism or -ition.
eg, organization, organize; criticism, criticize; recognition, recognize.

It uses -ise for verbs ending with -cise and based on Latin words for cut.
eg, excise.

It uses -ise for verbs ending with -vise and based on Latin or French words for see.
eg, supervise.

It uses -ise for verbs based upon nouns that are only spelt with ise themselves..
eg, advertise from advertisement.

The habit of using -ise in all circumstances is based upon laziness and ignorance of the rules and roots of English.


Use latest or final as appropriate.
eg, The latest issue of the Consulting Journal contains the final article in the series.

This seems more consistent. Likeable is preferred for some house styles, including OUP.

Use numbered lists for a set of sequential actions:
  1. Do this first.
  2. Do this second.

Bulleted lists should be punctuated as if they were complete sentences, with:
  • a semi-colon for each item; and
  • a full-stop at the end.

man-hours, person-hours
Man-hours is sometimes replaced by person-hours. Work-hours is better.
eg, The tasks need 40 work-hours, and 2 people should complete them in 20 elapsed hours.

Not meet with.

But memorandum of understanding, in lower case.

Preferably not hyphenated.
Notebook should describe a paper notebook. Computers are laptops.

Not hyphenated.

Use only to mean pattern.

place names
Use lower case for river, sea, ocean, city, etc if this word can be omitted from the place name. If there is another place with the same name, then the word cannot be omitted.
eg, the river Thames, even though there is a town called Thames in New Zealand. The Thames is understood to refer to the British river. The Pacific ocean as the Pacific is unambiguous, but the Indian Ocean.
This rule does not apply to Mount or Lake at the beginning of a place name.
eg, Everest or Mount Everest.
In England, some bodies of water are not called Lake, while in Scotland and Ireland Loch and Lough should not be omitted.
eg, Windermere, Ullswater, Loch Lomond, Lough Neagh.

Not preventative.

Avoid overuse.
Use only to describe a person or group of people.
eg, The team is proactive
but not The plan is proactive.

Noun and verb used in computing.
The Consulting Journal prefers programme for all other uses. This includes a programme of related projects.

Rolls-Royce is a tradename and it is hyphenated.
Do not use expressions like a Rolls-Royce solution.

Many style guides recommend that scenario should be used only to refer to the outline of a theatrical play. In consulting, scenario may be used properly when it describes a set of known and planned events. In other situations, use situation.

split infinitives
Used sensibly, split infinitives can add emphasis.
eg, To boldly go where no one has gone before.

Omit sponsors' names unless they are part of the actual name.
eg, the Warriors rather than the Vodaphone Warriors.

Show time in either of the following formats.
Avoid the following in writing and in presentations.
six-fifteen in the morning/afternoon/evening
a quarter past six

Abbreviation for versus. Not vs.


Avoid when and will do.

as of
Use from or since.
eg, Instead of This rule applies as of 1 August, use This rule will apply from 1 August or This rule has applied since 1 August.

boiler plate
Avoid when standard clause or template will do.

Use a different word order where possible.
Instead of In many cases, your processes are ineffective, write Many of your processes are ineffective.

Use now instead.

Avoid attendee and retiree and use only where there is no better alternative, as in employee and trainee. Usually, for each passive -ee noun, there is an active -er noun, such as employer amd trainer.

Use expect instead.

Avoid the fact that. If necessary, use that or because instead.
Eg, replace The fact that the reject rate is so high implies that your manufacturing quality is low with Your high reject rate implies that your manufacturing quality is low.

Feasible is overused by consultants. Sometimes it is used wrongly, where probable is meant. Sometimes can be done would be better.
The major exception is a feasibility study.

Avoid footnotes when the text can be included in the main body in parenthesis.

foreign phrases
Do not use a foreign phrase if there is an English equivalent.
eg, Use obsession instead of idée fixe.
Do not italicize foreign words and phrases.
Keep accents.
eg, Use coupé for a car; use coupe for a dessert.

Avoid using the former and the latter.

Hopefully should be avoided.
This is partly because it really only means with hope.
eg, We began the new project hopefully.

The position of hopefully within a sentence can cause problems in identifying who is hopeful.
eg, They have hopefully begun the project in its proper sense means They have begun the project with hope, rather than We hope that they have begun the project.

Use deep instead. In-depth is a particularly ugly word but is very common in consultants' reports.

Use find instead of locate and place instead of location.

Avoid using mindset.

Use a noun such as decision or bid where appropriate.
Use a verb such as act where appropriate.
Eg, We shall act against our competitors.

Use only for a water craft, not for a raft of proposals.

To avoid confusion, use normal or usual, as in my usual train to town, or frequent, as in a frequent train service to town.
Regular means scheduled or periodic.

Use simple or na´ve as appropriate.

Use intelligent instead, where appropriate.
Use smart to describe appearance, not nature.
You can use smart ironically, as in a smart idea for something that appears to be intelligent, although actually lacking in intelligence.

Use a better description.
Instead of a British-style parliament, write a parliament modelled on the British two house system, with constituency elections for the lower house.

Avoid table as in table a plan, as in British English it means to propose the plan and in American English to postpone the plan.


Pronounced as initials.

Pronounced pin, as saying the initials introduces two glottal stops.

Pronounced as initials, not sequel.

use case
Use is the noun, and should pronounced as such.

2010 and subsequent years pronounced as two two-digit numbers: twenty ten and so on.

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