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A Quick Guide to Compass Style

As part of our efforts to streamline production, here are a few rules for contributing authors. Up until now there have been no formal guidelines. These originate from the Associated Press Manual of Style, universally used in commercial copywriting. It's the bible for U.S. publishers. We can and will make exceptions from time to time, as publications often do. Because The Compass also reaches out to members of the general public, we want to adhere to the same professional standards folks are used to seeing when they read a book, a magazine or a newspaper.


"February 12th" is not a date. "Feb. 12" is.

"Feb. 12, 2015" is not a date if it is obvious we are talking about the current year. Just use "Feb. 12."

"Tuesday, Feb. 12" is preferable to just giving the calendar date.


"12.00 P.M." or "12:00 PM" are not times. "12 p.m." is. So is "12:30 p.m." So is "noon."

"12:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M." or "12:00 A.M. - 2:00 P.M." are not times. "12 - 2 p.m." is. So is "noon - 2:30 p.m."

"10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M." is not a time. "10 a.m. - 2 p.m." is. So is "10:30 a.m. - noon."


"Ten" is not a number. "10" is.

"9" is not a number. "Nine" is.

Numbers less than 10 are always spelled out.

"20%" is not a percentage. "20 percent" is.

"Five dollars" is not a price. "$5" is.

Prices are exceptions to the numbers rule; always use numeral.


South Shore Yacht Club is a proper noun and therefore uppercase. The word club standing alone is a lowercase common noun, capitalized only when it begins a sentence. As in: all the members of our club.... Or: Club members must memorize our bylaws line by line and be able to recite them standing on their heads with one hand tied behind their back and balancing a beer on their left foot without any spillage.

Commodore Ken Dziubek is an official title, therefore an uppercase proper noun. Same for Vice Commodore Jerry Kedziora. Or SSYC Director Dick Olson. The word commodore standing alone is a lowercase common noun. As in: The commodore welcomes your input. Or: Ken Dziubek, commodore of South Shore Yacht Club, issued an unusual edict.

The same holds true for the word director. It is a lowercase common noun when used standing alone. As in: Reminder to all directors from the commodore - you must dye your hair green before the next board meeting; even if you are down to one follicle.

Committee names are uppercase proper nouns, being the title of an official body with supervisory authority. As in: The SSYC Special Events Committee. Or: The South Shore Yacht Club Special Events Committee. Special Events Committee Chair Jerry Kedziora is properly capitalized. Arranged slightly differently, it would be: Jerry Kedziora, chair of the Special Events Committee.

The word committee standing alone is a lowercase common noun unless it begins a sentence or is the complete official title. As in: Jeremy Burns, committee chair, made a surprising announcement.

Likewise correct: Jeremy Burns, chair of the IT Committee, asked everybody to log out immediately because the system was about to crash and burn like in a Michael Bay movie, except louder.

And also correct: Entertainment Committee Chair Vince Verhasselt announced that tonight everybody in the joint was drinking on the house. Hollered Verhasselt, "Bring the thunder, baby - let's party like it's 2099!" Rick Schoos, chair of the Insurance Committee, questioned the move, concerned about the club's liability.

Board of Directors is the title of our governing body and therefore an uppercase proper noun. But the word board when standing alone is a lowercase common noun, never to be uppercased unless it begins the sentence. As in, John Doe addressed the board Jan. 12 and took some tough questions from directors.

It would also be correct to say: John Doe addressed the Board of Directors Jan. 12, and it did not go as well as he might have hoped. Also acceptable: By Jan. 12 members of the board had become so totally sick of Doe's endless, pathetic whining that they threw him under the bus and left him for road kill.

On Writng Well

We are not asking you to become Hemingway. How to write well is a vast topic. But here are a few simple tips inspired by the classic writers' handbook, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.

• Omit needless words.

 Be succinct.

 Get to the point.

• Lead with the meat.

• Write with concrete nouns.

• Use active verbs.

• Substitute short words for long words.

• Keep sentences short.

• Use the declarative form.

• Group together like thoughts.

• Split run-on sentences into multiple short sentences.

• Put the important stuff at the beginning and end of the sentence; because readers skip the middle.

• In trying to write a nice clean declarative sentence, don't do this. Do this in trying to write a nice clean declarative sentence. Impatient readers get annoyed with ponderous copy that contains lots of big long intro clauses.

• The bullet point is your best friend when writing copy for the web.

• A spoonful of humor makes people want to read you; and improves message uptake and retention.

• Eschew exclamation marks; instead write with intrinsic grace and power.

• If you're uncertain where to begin, begin at the end.

More Best Practices

If you know a shorter word that means the same, use that.

If you know one word which stands for many words, use that.

From every sentence delete as many words as possible without harming meaning.

From every paragraph delete as many sentences as possible without weakening your over-arching thought.

Good writing reads like a bath in spring water. Reading bad writing is like trudging through a bog.

Good writing needs scant punctuation. Bad writing contains an obvious surplus of commas, dashes and parentheses.

Sparingly use these passive verbs because they rob prose of raw energy: “is,” “are,” “was.”

Never say you “would like to thank” someone. Just say thanks.

Good writing flows pleasingly. Bad writing takes infuriating twists and turns.

Copy with lots of periods reads way better than copy with lots of commas.

Leaders often favor a pretentiously turgid and stilted style, believing it makes them appear more important. Instead they come off as jerks.

Great writers the world over love the period as their best friend. Commas they distrust as a bad influence.

No author can find an inimitable voice without first mastering the art of writing with elegant simplicity.

We write differently for the Internet because Internet users are speed readers, comfortable with brief staccato bullet-point statements and sentence fragments. They scan copy impatiently for the info they need instantly.

Readers of books, magazines and newspapers want the full five-course banquet, finding reading pleasure in more traditional and expansive narrative forms. They like long journeys, whereas users of the Internet just want the highlights, fast.

Famous Quotes

"Sorry for the long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one." - Mark Twain

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." - Elmore Leonard

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

"I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top." - English professor at Ohio University, name unknown.

"Writing comes more easily if you have something to say."  - Sholem Asch

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs." - Stephen King

"I write one page of masterpiece to 91 pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket."  - Ernest Hemingway

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” - Thomas Jefferson

“To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.” - Aristotle