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Grammar Repair Shop: Will they understand every word?

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Problem: Moni Jackson, Toms River, N.J., takes minutes during a board of directors meeting. "At a recent session, the vice president stated that policies should be reviewed biannually," Jackson told us. "I found out later that she actually meant once every two years. I believe the word should be 'biennially.'"


Lesson: Jackson is correct that "biannual" usually means twice a year and "biennial" every two years, although some dictionaries list "biennial" as one definition for "biannual."


But the bottom line is that, beyond choosing the right word, you want to eliminate any doubt that readers will understand. Sometimes, that requires saying exactly what you mean, rather than relying on a single word.


Example: "The vice president said policies should be reviewed every two years."


In some documents, you can ensure clarity with another reference to the topic.


Example: "The vice president said policies should be reviewed biennially. Every two years, a committee would ... ."


When you begin working in a new field, check with experienced colleagues to determine which industry jargon all of your readers will understand and what terms you'll need to clarify.


Peeved by a common error? Puzzled by perplexing grammar rules? Send us an e-mail at admineditor@nibm.net with the subject "Grammar." Or call us at (703) 905-4850.

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