Friday, March 21, 2014


I was pleased to receive a special discount coupon from a retailer recently.

Pleased, that is, until the coupon's terms and conditions raised a pretty important question.


There are a few grammatical/proofreading problems with this list of terms, including inconsistent use of upper-case letters. (Why are the P on "Program" and the T on "Transferable" capital letters?) The incorrect spelling of "redeemable" suggests a too-quick proofread on its own; but even if that word had been spelled correctly, was the retailer really trying to tell me this coupon is not redeemable at all?

It's likely that bullet was supposed to provide extra information to clarify the circumstances under which the coupon can't be redeemed (e.g. on certain types of merchandise, on the purchase of other training programs) -- but due to the too-quick review of this coupon, the writer didn't notice it was missing.

When you need to leave something blank because you don't know the answer, use a placeholder

In professional writing, you sometimes need to write a document when you don't have all the final details.

For example, when writers in a publicly-traded company draft a news release about something the Board has yet to approve, they'll use a bullet or another symbol to show where the missing information goes (e.g. "Today, the Board declared a dividend of $ * per share").

This allows a writer to write around the missing information, but puts something in the text to flag that there's information missing. A search for the symbol in Word helps you fill in the information quickly once you have it.

If my coupon-writer had used this approach, his/her text might have looked something like this:

"Non-redeemable toward **************"

That would have been much tougher for the proofreader to miss.


  1. The traditional journalistic placeholder is TK, which stands for "to come."
    The capital letters TK jump out at a proofer because they do not stand for anything else in English.
    I'm told lazy magazine writers litter their manuscripts with TK's, leaving some low-paid fact checker to find the missing facts and fit them in -- not that I know any lazy magazine writers.

  2. I'll now use TK instead of bullets - as you point out, it's easier to pick out visually, and just as easy to search/replace using Word. Thanks!