The consulting services of Strategy Sanity are multi-faceted and can be tailored
to any need —
Strategies, Programs, and even presentations can be analyzed and developed.
Numerous Marketing and writing services are available.
Extensive experience is the basis of many More abilities as well.
In the technical arena, our strength is in embedded Processors, microcontrollers,
digital signal processors, core processors, application processors, multi-core processors,
and their application in electronic equipment.
Traditional Market Research is performed in conjunction with Objective Analysis.
While generally the formal rules of grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and writing
style in the English (or American-English) language should be followed in all writing,
this analyst is a strong believer in a few deviations. The purpose for these differences
is to enhance clarity and ease-of-use in the more complex and numerical technical
Acronyms: Be sure to spell them out but also sprinkle around the full phrase.
First it is good to point out a guideline that is apropos to the use of abbreviations
and acronyms so prevalent in the Glossary on this Web site. This is a guideline that
most authors follow fairly well. The first use of an abbreviation or acronym in a
document should spell out the full term or phrase, and follow with the abbreviation
or acronym that will be used further on in the document. This may look like "...
digital signal processor (DSP)... The instrument uses a DSP to..."
Just because an acronym has been introduced does not preclude use of the full term
or phrase. In fact, it is good to utilize the full string of words occasionally in
later dialog to add emphasis, to remind the reader of the overall issue, or simply
to break up the monotony of TLA TLA TLA TLA. This is especially true in long documents
or where people may pull extracts out of the text and only be left with the mystical
abbreviation in the out-take. It adds richness to revert back to the full phrase
every four or five paragraphs. Remember that Web-based documents are often strung
across a number of Web pages and that can leave the expansion of an abbreviation
or acronym on a different page.
In some cases, space considerations make the above technique cumbersome. For instance
in an illustration or in a presentation there may not be room to label a feature
or write a concise bullet point using the fully spelled out name. In these instances,
it is more useful to use the short abbreviation or acronym in the illustration or
bullet point, but at the bottom of the page or otherwise reasonably in sight have
a key or expansion of the shortening. This can be as simple as: DSP=digital signal
processor or MU=million units shipped . This preserves the need for tight spacing
without bewildering the uninitiated reader or listener with cryptic or unclear terms.
If nothing else, a quick breakout of all the terms used should be provided at the
end of the document or presentation.
Company Names: Treat much the same as Acronyms.
Company names come in various forms from formal to short-hand with legal ramifications
that disturb lawyers. Readers don't want to be bothered with the cumbersome detail
but are looking for the message hiding in the text. American Telephone and Telegraph
may be called AT&T or ATT and it may also show a stock ticker symbol on the Dow as
T, and there may be an Incorporated in there somewhere. Analog Devices is a company
but each of those words are also common English words. In conversation a speaker
might say "Analog" and be referring to the company Analog Devices, or he/she might
say ADI (which stands for Analog Devices, Inc.). A company like Freescale Semiconductors
is often simply called "Freescale" even by the company itself, and Freescale is a
relatively made-up word, so there is some difference from the ADI example. MSFT (the
stock symbol) is often seen in print as a short-hand for Microsoft Corporation (or
is it Incorporated?)
While efforts should be made to comply with company desires for use of their trademarks,
generally when writing one should apply similar rules of use to company names as
to acronyms and abbreviations. That is, be sure the first use of the name is the
more formal version, possibly with an indication of a shortened version to be subsequently
used. Sometimes it is also helpful to give the shortest possible indication of the
history of the name, such as: "Freescale Semiconductors (spun out from Motorola in
2003)" or "AT&T (sometimes referred to as 'Ma Bell')".
Some local style guides (such as in financial circles) have unique adders to include
such as the ticker symbol, stock exchange, or recent price, or other information
like country headquarters or current annual revenues. With company names it is not
usually beneficial to revert back to the full corporate name later in the dialog
as was suggested with acronyms and abbreviations, except where maybe bridging disparate
Web pages. Product names and families can be tricky too, and should be handled similarly,
but only with a good familiarity with how they are used in common practice. It is
always good to assume the reader does not have the in-depth knowledge the writer
does of the topic, and adding a few descriptive words before the product name (or
following with a parenthetical phrase) can really help. Good examples might read
like: "...the new cost-reduced R73 models have the same features as the popular P70
models on which they are based but also come in updated colors...". Give comparative
specifics that any reader will relate to – although this is more of a content suggestion
than a style guide.
Numbers: Go ahead and start a sentence with a numeral.
The general rule is to spell out all numbers from zero to ten and some milestone
numbers like hundred or million. But in technology there are many situations where
it is far clearer to always use the actual numeral. Engineers, scientists, and mathematicians
are used to seeing numbers and often scan for them specifically. If the numbers are
less visible because they are written out, they will be missed. Just glancing at
the spelled out "ten" and the numerals "12" require an interpretation in the brain
before they can be quickly compared as to which is bigger (perhaps a silly example
but we do this a lot). Tables of numbers give weight to the advantage of always using
numerals rather than occasional numbers in written word. A table would look ridiculous
if every time the data tallied 9 or 10 it was written out as nine or ten, especially
in the midst of 14, 36, 92, and 174.
The situation can be exacerbated when the number is the first word of a sentence
or paragraph. Traditional rules dictate that the number is spelled out in words,
even if it is a "big" number. While in some ways the value of initial capitalization
to denote the start of a sentence may be lost if numerals begin the sentence, numerals
at least also take up the full line height, and so may resemble initial caps. More
important is that the numeral may especially draw the reader's attention to a critical
highlight that is missed if converted to the word-equivalent. Again the size-comparison
mentioned above plays into this. Consider the two versions of this sentence:
a) Ninety-three million miles is a long way, but the 142 million miles from the
Sun to Mars is 50% farther.
b) 93 million miles is a long way, but the 142 million miles from the Sun to Mars
is 50% farther.
In b) all of the numbers appear as numerals and are easier for the mind to assimilate,
almost making the 50% comment redundant to some readers. [As an aside, note that
"farther" rather than "further" should only be used when referring to distances (to
remember this rule, think of "far" as a distance).]
While nobody would ever suggest substituting a "1" for "One" in "One would assume
that cows are heavy", anywhere that the number starting a sentence is there to give
scale, that scale is emphasized in technical writing when it appears as a numeral.
Sentences can be re-worded sometimes to move the number from the first word, but
this can change the emphasis or flow of the writing. "8-cylinder engines..." could
be re-written "With 8-cylinder engines..." or even "Engines with 8 cylinders..."
but that may subtly change the intent of the author. Ultimately, meaning and content
should drive the sentence, not some rigid sense of formal style.
Numeral difficulty can be worse in the peculiar Olde Englishe style of highlighting
the first letter of a paragraph by pulling it into an oversized exotic letter to
start out the paragraph, sometimes called a "Drop Letter". This, too, could play
havoc with spelled-out numbers – or it could work to an advantage if the first letter
was actually an "8" or forced to a "16", where it delineated the description of the
8 versus the 16 sized discussion.
Note that hyphenated numbers can be especially tricky, as noted later in this piece.
Decimals, periods, and separators: Favor mathematical clarity over punctuation niceties.
Decimals, points, periods, and other separators or delineators can be difficult when
formulae (plural of formula) and numbers are included in normal text. The Web makes
things more difficult both with HTML's difficulty in dealing with things that are
conceptualized for hand-writing as well as limitations of fonts, superscripts, and
the like on unknown displays. Just to show a E=MC2 on a Web page usually requires
special handling of the line spacing.
Additionally, periods ("dots"), slashes, and colons are used in new ways that may
not fit well in sentence structures established well before the Internet or even
computers were conceived. A period might be confusing to a rookie if it is at the
end of a sentence that otherwise would have ended with the Web page html://www.domain.com/html.
Does the period get typed or only the "dots" and does the reader know the difference?
If there is a slash ("/" at the end does the reader know that it may be able to be
left off of some URLs?
This author prefers ignoring a few normal rules of English in favor of extra clarity
and maybe nobody noticed the lack of a sentence-ending period. Techniques the author
prefers that work but may conflict with knuckle-slapping English teachers:
- Significant digits are especially important in technology. If the author writes
100.0 then be sure the final product also says 100.0 and not 100 or "one hundred".
- In the previous example, perhaps there should be a comma after the 100.0 in each
instance. Because commas can also delineate multiples of thousands, unless absolutely
critical suppress its use so close to numbers.
- Use special fonts, typically a fixed-spaced font like Courier (rather than proportional
font like Verdana) for computer-sort-of things like: Web site addresses, URLs
( http://www.strategysanity.com/style.html http://192.168.0.1 ) Filenames
and path names ( C:\My_Documents\Webthings\reminders.docx ) The special font may get
"neutralized" by a browser or downstream software but at least it's an attempt to
give a unique look to just the text that needs to be typed in exactly. Putting the
exact text on its own line http://192.168.0.1 also makes it clearer. Remember that
an underline, especially in blue, often indicates a live link and may hide a real
underscore between words.
- Sometimes it may be best to leave off the period ending a sentence but instead
just use a few extra spaces or maybe a carriage return. This is usually best when
there are decimal points or "dots" of computer lingo essentially at the end of the
sentence. Omitting the period keeps one extra dot or decimal from creeping into the
- Commas should be used as thousands separators in numbers to aid readability, even
for decimal numbers like 30,849.82 or just "4-digit" numbers like 2,500. The appending
of a symbolic multiplier like in 2,500 K should not dissuade a writer from using
comma delimiters. Commas in numbers, even columns of numbers, provide a visual clue
to distinguish or emphasize scale, making numbers easier for the reader to absorb.
- An exception to the use of commas in numbers exists when those numbers represent
computer programs and possibly the data being shown in computer programs. There,
the programmers (people) who read or write the code are likely to be more used to
seeing numbers, data, or instruction representations in specific ways, possibly with
a space between every 4 or 8 digits, possibly in binary, octal, or hexadecimal representation.
Also, in computer programs every character probably has a very explicit meaning,
and a comma is more likely to separate options or whole variables rather than to
simply provide visual guides to the human. Any stray punctuation in computer programs
is a recipe for disaster, so keep commas in check there.
Hyphens, Commas: Use them to improve readability of complex sentences.
Hyphens are helpful punctuation to connect words into more-complete thoughts. Do
not be afraid to use hyphens in complex sentences. An out-of-the-box concept is easier
to grasp than an out of the box concept because the four words together act as an
adjective rather than a prepositional phrase.
Hyphens also link words that might be confusing or even wrong if the reader associates
words incorrectly. For instance, in the earlier sentence
"Hyphens are helpful punctuation to connect words into more-complete thoughts."
a hyphen assures that "more" links only with "complete", because the idea is not
to make more thoughts, but to make the thoughts more complete. Complex technical
or marketing sentences often feature strings of adjectives before nouns that work
better with hyphens. While the order of adjectives plays a part, it is very helpful
to the reader if hyphens connect multiplying adjectives.
On the other hand, the use of commas should be embraced and not forgotten. Commas
place pauses in complex sentences to indicate the boundaries of partial thoughts.
The idea behind all punctuation is to help the reader to grasp the meaning of the
sentence quickly, without having to mentally break down and re-read the sentence.
One good way to place commas is to consider reading the sentence aloud and place
a comma where natural pauses in the sentence add emphasis or clarify the meaning;
however, care must be taken when using this technique to avoid an overabundance of
8-bit MCUs: Demonstrating many issues starting a sentence.
8-bit MCUs are microcontrollers that are probably the most basic computing circuit
in use today. Starting a sentence with "8-bit MCUs" may epitomize a number of the
issues discussed above. Starting a sentence by writing out the number eight would
make the designation "8-bit" virtually disappear to the target reading audience so
it is better left as a numeral. The hyphen is necessary to tie the number to the
word "bit" so we know there are 8 bits rather than 8 MCUs (either one is possible).
There are times in a sentence which is arranged differently where no hyphen would
be used, such as in: The most popular word width of an MCU is 8 bits. Because eight
was not written out, should there be a capitalization somewhere to indicate the start
of the sentence?
Capitalizing "bit" has the same effect as writing out the eight, that is, it disturbs
the pattern the reader is so familiar with. Therefore, it is best to simply keep
the hyphenated "bit" in lower-case. This is not to say all uses of "bit" should be
lower-case. The following sentence, caption, or even title should use an initial
cap in the word "bit": 16 Bits Greatly Extend the Usability of an MCU. Here a hyphen
after the number would have been wrong and its absence emphasizes the actual point
of the sentence - that more bits are better.
MCUs is an abbreviation for microcontrollers. It would be quite suitable to start
the sentence "8-bit Microcontrollers..." and here capitalizing microcontrollers is
correct. If MCU has already been defined as short for microcontroller in the writing
the better way to show plural of the abbreviation is to append a lower-case "s" to
MCU rather than an upper-case letter. This highlights the plurality without making
the reader wonder if S stands for "system" as it might in some abbreviations, and
it also aids in reading aloud where the proper speaking of the letters would be saying
A few other notes on use of words in English can be found in the Glossary under etc.
for shortened Latin phrases, and certain quantity labels like B, G, K, M (sometimes
with careful note of capitalization) and symbols and Greek letters (at the beginning
of the Glossary).
It's its: Special apostrophe in ownership, only with it.
An apostrophe (' or ´) can show missing letters when used to shorten (barely) contractions
which are common in speech, such as "don't" or to show possession as in "Susan's
house". With the word "it", an apostrophe is only used to show missing letters, as
in the contraction for "it is" or "it has" which would become "it's". However, if
a company used a brand name, one might write about the company, saying "its brand..."
with no apostrophe between the t and the s. Note that a company is an "it", an object,
not a "they", a person or persons. This is common English.