Accounting

Before You Turn in Your Paper

  1. Some Useful Proofreading Techniques
  2. Troublesome Words and Phrases
  3. Parts of Speech: A Brief Primer
  4. Parts of a Sentence: A Brief Primer
  5. Some Useful Writing Reference Websites
  6. Business Writing Resources Available Through the UI Library System

Some Useful Proofreading Techniques

  • Read aloud, or have a friend read it aloud. Listen for awkwardness in verb tenses, wordiness, or clarity problems. Ask your friend to point out typos and other mistakes.
  • Print the paper out. If you’ve been reading your paper on a computer monitor as you write, it can be easy to miss typos and other mechanical problems. Sometimes looking at the printed copy can help you see your mistakes more clearly.
  • Read backward. When you’re reading your paper over from the beginning, it can be easy to pay attention to the meaning of the words and miss typos, spelling errors, and other mechanical mistakes. To avoid this problem, read backward. Take a blank sheet of paper and cover all the sentences except the last one. Read it through for mechanical problems and correct English usage. When you’re sure you’ve got a great sentence on your hands, move the blank sheet of paper up one sentence.

Troublesome Words and Phrases

Accept/Except

These two words are often confused. “Accept” is a verb, meaning “to receive.” “Except” is usually a preposition meaning “excluding.”

Incorrect Usage:

  • I will never except the fact that he has a better desk than I do.
  • Everyone is here accept Lucy.

Correct Usage:

  • I will never accept the fact that he has a better desk than I do.
  • Everyone is here except Lucy.

Suggested Fix:
You can use a memory device to distinguish between the two words, like this one: “If I get all A’s, I will be accepted to college.” (“Accept” begins with the letter “a..”) If you confuse these words regularly, do a special search when proofreading to catch them.

Affect/Effect

These two words are often confused even by practiced writers. They’re doubly confusing because each word has two meanings, as both a subject and a verb. However, as a general rule of thumb, it’s enough to remember that “affect” is usually used as a verb, and that “effect” is usually used as a noun.

Incorrect Usage:

  • How will Hurricane Elvis effect corn prices in Iowa?
  • What is the affect of rising corn prices on our business?

Correct Usage:

  • How will Hurricane Elvis affect corn prices in Iowa?
  • What is the effect of rising corn prices on our business?

Suggested Fix:
If you have trouble with these two words, do a special search for them when you proofread. Some word-processing programs may flag the wrong word for you, but don’t rely on them alone. Try using this memory device: “Anger affects us all.” (Both “anger” and “affects” begin with the letter “a.”)

Hopefully

“Hopefully” is an adverb; you can tell because it ends in “-ly,” which is the case with most adverbs. It is intended to modify a verb. You can do something in a hopeful manner, but you can’t use “hopefully” to mean “I hope.”

Incorrect Usage:

  • Hopefully, Santa will bring me an Xbox for Christmas.

Correct Usage:

  • “Will you let me play with your new Xbox?” my little brother asked hopefully.

Suggested Fix:
If you’re writing informally, you can use “I hope” in place of “hopefully.” If you’re writing formally, you can use “It is to be hoped that” or “One hopes.” Better yet, you can rephrase the sentence to avoid the construction completely.

Huge, Major

Both of these adjectives are widely used in conversation and informal writing, and both have completely valid dictionary definitions. However, the widespread use of these words in an informal sense has led to their being considered too casual for professional writing. They are also vague, and can lead to exaggerated claims.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The major reason for our decision is, of course, political expediency.
  • There are several huge problems with Caspar’s proposal.

Correct Usage:

  • Of course, our decision is motivated largely by political expediency.
  • There are several serious problems with Caspar’s proposal.

Suggested Fix:
Examine the sentence to see what you really want the word to mean: do you want to indicate that something is large, serious, widespread, or all of the above? Substitute a word that is more specific in meaning. You may also find that you can omit the adjective altogether if the surrounding context already suggests that you are talking about something big or serious.

Is When, Is Where

These two constructions are often used to create wordy and awkward sentences, especially when explaining or defining terms.

Incorrect Usage:

  • A tax write-off is when you can claim a rebate in your taxes.
  • Leasing is a system where one pays a low fixed rate over an agreed-upon period.

Correct Usage:

  • A tax write-off is a rebate in one’s taxes.
  • Leases allow one to pay a low fixed rate over an agreed-upon period.

Suggested Fix:
Rewrite the sentence to get rid of the extra words. This will make your sentence shorter, clearer, and easier to read.

Lead/Led

“Lead” is the present-tense version of the verb; “led” is the past tense. These words are confused perhaps more often than any other verb forms.

Incorrect Usage:

  • In 1967, Guppycorp lead the world in artificial mangrove manufacturing.

Correct Usage:

  • In 1967, Guppycorp led the world in artificial mangrove manufacturing.

Suggested Fix:
If you have trouble with these words, make sure you do a special search for them when you’re proofreading. Look them up in a dictionary or make up a memory device that works for you.

Loose/Lose

Most of the time, “loose” is an adjective, usually used to mean that something is not tight. “Lose” is a verb, stating that you have misplaced something.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Don’t loose those figures, or the boss will kill me.
  • Since I started playing squash, my trousers have felt loser.

Correct Usage:

  • Don’t lose those figures, or the boss will kill me.
  • Since I started playing squash, my trousers have felt looser.

Suggested Fix:
You can use a memory device to keep these words separate in your mind. Try a simple word-association, like “The moose is loose,” to remind you that “loose” is spelled with two Os, like “moose.” If you have trouble keeping these words straight in your head, do a special search to catch them before you turn in your paper.

Of

People often say and write “would of” instead of “would have,” but “of” is not a synonym for “have,” and it has no place in verb constructions. This usage has probably come about because “of” sounds like “have” when people are speaking, but it does not belong in business writing.

Incorrect Usage:

  • I would of attended the mock interviews if I’d known about them.

Correct Usage:

  • I would have attended the mock interviews if I’d known about them.

Suggested Fix:
Be careful with your verb constructions. Get rid of the habit of using “of” in place of “have.” No literate employer will allow you to write in this way. Note: beware of similar constructions also, like “must of.”

Than/Then

These two words are frequently confused, although they are not similar in meaning. “Than” is used when making comparisons. “Then” indicates a point in time.

Incorrect Usage:

  • If this works, than we’ll be rich.
  • Of course, Bill Gates will still be richer then us.

Correct Usage:

  • If this works, then we’ll be rich.
  • Of course, Bill Gates will still be richer than us.

Suggested Fix:
Pay close attention to these words when they come up. You may be able to remember their different roles this way: “compAre=thAn.” (The words “compare” and “than” both contain the letter “a.”) If you can’t keep them straight, be sure to do a special search for them before you turn in your paper, or look them up in a dictionary.

That/Which

It’s easy to forget which of the two words to use. The simplest rule that governs this usage is: use “which” when the clause you are adding can be put into parentheses without changing the meaning of the sentence. Otherwise, use “that.” In general, “which” clauses require commas, and “that” clauses do not.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The client records, that you requested, are on fire in my wastebasket.
  • The president’s desk that is covered in indelible graffiti is just upstairs.
  • The new computer which Kimmy loves is already broken.

Correct Usage:

  • The client records that you requested are on fire in my wastebasket.
  • The president’s desk, which is covered in indelible graffiti, is just upstairs.
  • The new computer, which Kimmy loves, is already broken.

Suggested Fix:
Remember that “that” clauses should tell the reader which desk, record, or computer is in question. “Which” clauses only add some extra information about that desk, record, or computer. In general, don’t use commas with “that” clauses, and do use them with “which” clauses.

That/Who

You should not use “that” to indicate a person; conversely, you should not use “who” to indicate anything but a person.

Incorrect Usage:

  • She is the one that stole my clients!
  • The major multinational corporation who manufactures chewing gum just folded.

Correct Usage:

  • She is the one who stole my clients!
  • The major multinational corporation that manufactures chewing gum just folded.

Suggested Fix: Use “who” when referring to a person; use “that” when referring to anything else. For groups of people, including companies, it is usually better to use “that.” See also: That/Which.

Who/Whom

These two words are confused all the time. The best way to keep them straight is to remember that “who” is a subject—it indicates a person performing an action of some kind. “Whom” is an object—it indicates a person on whom an action is being performed.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Can I tell Mr. Peoples whom is calling?
  • The woman who I recommended for promotion is dancing with joy.

Correct Usage:

  • Can I tell Mr. Peoples who is calling?
  • The woman whom I recommended for promotion is dancing with joy.

Suggested Fix:
Try to rephrase the sentence using “him/her/them” or “he/she/they” instead of “who” or “whom.” If you can replace it with “he/she/they,” you should use “who.” If you can replace it with “him/her/them,” you should use “whom.” For example: “He is calling” tells you to use “who.” “I recommended her” tells you to use “whom.” You can remember which is which by remembering that “them/him” and “whom” all end in “m.”

With

Many people use the word “with” in place of the phrase “because of.” This habit is widespread in spoken English, where it is also incorrect and lazy-sounding.

Incorrect Usage:

  • With all its debts, Enron may be insolvent very soon.

Correct Usage:

  • Because of all its debts, Enron may be insolvent very soon.

Suggested Fix:
If you catch yourself starting a sentence or phrase with “with,” go back and ask yourself if you really mean, “because of.” If you tend to use it a lot, do a special search for it before you turn in your paper.

Breadth/Breath/Breathe

These three words are not only spelled differently, they’re spoken differently. Often they’re confused in writing not because the writer doesn’t know the difference but because of poor proofreading, and your computer’s spellchecker certainly won’t pick them up.

  • “Breadth” is a noun, meaning a unit of space, distance, or width: “The length and breadth of the land.”
  • “Breath” is a noun, meaning an output of air: “I lost my breath.”
  • “Breathe” is a verb, meaning to take in or exhale air: “I breathe deeply every day.”

If you tend to mistype these words, read your paper aloud or do a special search for these words before you turn in your paper.

Choose/Chose

These two words are confused often, though they sound quite different when spoken aloud. Often they’re confused in writing not because the writer doesn’t know the difference but because of poor proofreading.

  • “Chose” is past tense: “I chose to enter the NBA when I was 19.”
  • “Choose” is present tense: “I would like to choose Harvard, but Yale is offering me more money.”

Your computer’s spellchecker won’t catch these, so if you tend to have trouble with these words, read your paper aloud or do a special search for these words before you turn in your paper.

Cite/Site

Many people use the word “cite” and “site” interchangeably, but they mean very different things. “Cite” is a verb, meaning to quote or mention. “Site” is a noun, meaning a place.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Don’t forget to site your sources in the text.
  • I went to the job cite to see the building’s progress.

Correct Usage:

  • Don’t forget to cite your sources in the text.
  • I went to the job site to see the building’s progress.

Suggested Fix:
If you tend to mix these two words up a lot, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper, because your spellchecker won’t catch them.

Continual/Continuous

Many people use the word “continual” and “continuous” interchangeably. They mean very different things, though the differences are fairly subtle. “Continuous” means without interruption. “Continual” means in close or rapid succession.

Incorrect Usage:

  • We were in continual contact with ground control.
  • My father continuously tells me to get a real job.

Correct Usage:

  • We were in continuous contact with ground control.
  • My father continually tells me to get a real job.

Suggested Fix:
If you tend to mix these two words up a lot, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper, because your spellchecker won’t catch them.

Discreet/Discrete

Many people use the word “discreet” and “discrete” interchangeably, but they mean very different things. “Discreet” means prudent or cautious. “Discrete” means separate.

Incorrect Usage:

  • If you tell me your secret, I promise to be discrete.
  • Each person in the department has a discreet role to play in our success.

Correct Usage:

  • If you tell me your secret, I promise to be discreet.
  • Each person in the department has a discrete role to play in our success.

Suggested Fix:
If you tend to mix these two words up a lot, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper, because your spellchecker won’t catch them.

Regardless/Irregardless

This problem is simple: “irregardless” is a double negative and does not exist in standard English. It should always be “regardless.”

Farther/Further

Many people use the word “farther” and “further” interchangeably, but they mean very different things. “Farther” is used for measurable distances, like miles, yards, or inches. “Further” is used for kind or degree.

Incorrect Usage:

  • We went further down the road than we ever had before.
  • Farther measures are needed to fix the accounting profession.

Correct Usage:

  • We went farther down the road than we ever had before.
  • Further measures are needed to fix the accounting profession.

Suggested Fix:
If you tend to mix these two words up a lot, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper.

Imply/Infer

Many people use the word “imply” and “infer” interchangeably, but they mean very different things. “Imply” is a verb meaning to suggest or hint at something, to give information out. “Infer” is a verb that means to draw a conclusion or take in information. The first means to give; the second, to receive.

Incorrect Usage:

  • I inferred to him that he might work a little harder.
  • Did you imply the meaning of the CEO’s speech?

Correct Usage:

  • I implied to him that he might work a little harder.
  • Did you infer the meaning of the CEO’s speech?

Suggested Fix:
If you tend to mix these up a lot, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper.

Principle/Principal/Principal

Many people mistake “principal,” the noun, “principal,” the adjective, and “principle,” the noun. As a noun, “principal” is the head of a school or a sum of money (an important distinction to accountants). The other noun, “principle,” is a rule or doctrine.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The principle called everyone to the auditorium.
  • The principle accrued the most interest.
  • In principal, I don’t believe in taxation without representation.

Correct Usage:

  • The principal called everyone to the auditorium.
  • The principal accrued the most interest.
  • In principle, I don’t believe in taxation without representation.

Suggested Fix:
If you catch yourself mixing up the meanings of these words, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper.

Personal/Personnel

Many people mistake “personal” and “personnel.” “Personal” means “individual,” as in, “I have a personal preference.” “Personnel” refers to staff, as in “We have a need for more personnel at the company.”

Incorrect Usage:

  • Ask the students who their personnel choice is for president.
  • All personal report to the conference room.

Correct Usage:

  • Ask the students who their personal choice is for president.
  • All personnel report to the conference room.

Suggested Fix:
If you catch yourself mixing up the two, do a special search for them before you turn in your paper.

Parts of Speech: A Brief Primer

This page is designed to help you remember the definitions and uses of various parts of speech.

Noun

A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. Proper nouns are capitalized; common nouns are not.

  • Proper nouns: God, Mother (used as a name or in direct address: “Good morning, Mother”), University of Iowa, Japan
  • Common nouns: dog, woman, university (used in the generic), country, mother (used in the generic: “It isn’t easy to be a mother”)

Verbs

A verb is a word that expresses action or being. Verbs may be a single word or a small group of words that work together. Verbs come in a variety of tenses, indicating the relative time at which an action is performed.

  • Action verbs: jump, run, sit
  • Being verbs: is, was
  • Multiple-word verbs: is sitting, was jumping, can help, could do

Pronouns

A word that stands in place of a noun.

  • I, me, you, we, us, he, she, it, they

Adjectives

An adjective is a word that modifies (tells something additional about) a noun or pronoun. Adjectives usually answer questions like, “Which one?” “What kind of?” “How many/how much?” They can be a single word or multiple words (generous-seeming friend).

  • the bluetick hound
  • a frantic golfer
  • 19 giraffes
  • horrible-tasting ice cream

Adverbs

An adverb is a word that modifies (tells something about) a verb, adjective, or adverb. Adverbs often end in “-ly.” They usually answer questions like, “When?” “Where?” “How?” “Why?” “Under what conditions?” “To what degree?”

  • Walking slowly
  • Walking very slowly
  • Walking unusually slowly
  • Walking ridiculously slowly

Prepositions

A preposition is a word placed before a word or group of words to form a phrase modifying (telling something about) another word in the sentence. In other words, prepositions are connecting words that show the relationship among words in a sentence. Prepositions often have to do with a noun’s location in time or space, or with the time at which an action is performed.

  • about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beside, besides, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, next, of, off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, since, than, through, to, toward, under, unlike, until, up, with, without.

Conjunctions

A conjunction is a joining word; it links words or groups of words in a sentence, and shows the relationship between them. While prepositions tend to tell something about a group of words in a sentence (Where is the cologne? How did Rabbit run?), conjunctions tell more about the way in which the sentence itself should be read. Which idea depends on other ideas? Which idea stands alone?

  • and, but, either, or, neither, nor, after, although, as, because, before, how, if, since, than, that, though, unless, until, what, when, where, which, while, who/whom.

Articles

An article is a word used to mark and define a noun.

  • A bunny rabbit
  • The file folder

Parts of a Sentence: A Brief Primer

Independent Clause

An independent clause is just what it sounds like—a complete thought (subject and verb) that can stand on its own. Independent clauses, when they do stand alone, are also known as simple sentences.

  • I am going to the store to buy bread.
  • We saw two movies last weekend.

Dependent Clause

A dependent clause is also just what it sounds like—it cannot stand by itself, because it is dependent on something else to finish the thought. A dependent clause is sometimes attached to an independent clause by a comma. Dependent clauses that stand alone are known as sentence fragments and should never appear in your writing.

  • Because I went to the store to buy bread.
  • Who saw two movies last weekend.

There are two kinds of dependent clauses: subordinate, which begins with a subordinating conjunction (“because,” “after,” “while,” “if”); and relative, which begin with a relative pronoun (“who,” “what,” “that,” “which”).

  • Because I went to the store to buy bread, I missed the phone call.
  • My brother, who saw two movies last weekend, forgot to finish his homework.

Types of Sentences

Simple

A simple sentence consists of a single independent clause.

  • We are going to the movies.
  • The dog ate my homework.
  • Everything exists in your imagination.

Compound

A compound sentence consists of two independent clauses joined together by a coordinating conjunction (“and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” “so”) and a comma.

  • We are going to the movies, and afterward we’re going to the grocery store.
  • The dog ate my homework, so I can’t turn it in.
  • Everything exists in your imagination, so nothing is certain.

Complex

A complex sentence consists of a single independent clause joined to one or more dependent clauses.

  • Because I forgot my mother’s birthday, I really hurt her feelings.
  • Since I bought the new car, I have had to spend a thousand dollars on repairs.
  • Although the work is interesting, I don’t think I’ll work for the company for long, because there’s no room for career growth.

Some Useful Writing Reference Websites

Try the following sites if you’re in need of further guidance, or browse for a while to get an idea of what’s out there:

You can use this dictionary not only to check your spelling, but also to find out what part of speech a word is (“funky” is an adjective, for instance). Many words are also cross-referenced as jargon or slang, which will help you to avoid them in formal writing.

This thesaurus lists synonyms for almost any word you can imagine; use it when you realize that you’ve used the word “change” five times in your third paragraph. It will offer you a variety of alternative choices, including “transform,” “modify,” “recast,” “reverse,” “transmogrify,” and “introduce new blood.” Also includes literary usages.

Name a concept, and the reverse dictionary will give you a list of related terms. Great for when you can’t think of the word for which you’re looking.

An on-line version of the classic grammar text.

Business Writing Resources Available Through the UI Library System

Selected Business Writing Resources Available Through the Marvin A. Pomerantz Business Library

  • Get Your Message Across Jacqui Ewart, Gail Sedorkin, Tony Schirato. ©1998, Allen & Unwin. Good general writing advice in a clear, pleasant format. Covers genres like brochures, newsletters, reports, promotional material, webpages, media releases, etc.
  • Plain English at Work Edward P. Bailey, Jr. ©1996, Oxford University Press. Clear, straightforward advice on style and grammar, and a separate section on giving presentations.

How to Find More Business Writing Resources

  • Go to the HF 5721 or the PE 1000 call number sections in the Pomerantz Business Library. This is where you will find books on business writing, presenting, and related topics. Simply scanning the shelves can net you many useful materials.
  • Check the bibliographies of the books you find most useful. Some books will even include a “Books for Further Reading” list.
  • Remember that you can use interlibrary loans to borrow materials that are not available here at the University of Iowa. Ask a librarian to show you how to do a basic Uborrow search—this is the system that searches 13 major research libraries in the United States.
  • Contact companies that interest you directly, either by calling, writing, or emailing. Most large companies will have in-house writing programs, and some may be willing to share their materials with you. If not, they may at least let you know what reference texts they follow, and what expectations they have of their employees’ writing skills.