How to write do’s and don’ts

One easy way to up your writing game is to ensure that whatever you’re writing – an email, a blog post, a social media update, etc. – follows one set of rules. For example, if you write “checkmark” as one word on first reference, don’t write “check mark” later on in the piece. Of course, this is easier said than done. Some terms that are one word as a noun are two as a verb, but that discussion is for another post. The point is that consistency matters.

But it’s not paramount. Sometimes it’s OK to bend the rules on consistency, such as in the phrase “do’s and don’ts.” If we applied the same rules for apostrophes that we use elsewhere, we’d get “dos and don’ts.” Or if we opted for clarity in “do’s” and used the same rule for “don’ts,” we’d get “do’s and don’t’s.” So consistency matters, but when in doubt, opt for clarity.

A screenshot of a message from Stylebot on Slack that reads: "Do's and don'ts" is a tricky phrase to punctuate, but follow the format you see at the beginning of this sentence even though the apostrophe use is inconsistent

And as long as we’re talking about apostrophes, remember that you don’t need an apostrophe to make your last name plural. So it’s, “Love, the Smiths,” not, “Love, the Smith’s.” Who’s seen this one on a holiday card? 👀

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