Sam Cook

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A Few Ground Rules #

My approach to this site (and writing in general), in rule form:

Rule 1 #

I reserve the right to edit my posts when I feel they need improvement or updates.

None of my ideas are written in stone, so why should my blog posts be? This blog is a collection of ideas, and I want my posts to be maximally helpful to the reader at the time of reading. Further, I am a human being and often make mistakes. I'd like to be able to go back and correct those mistakes.

Rule 2 #

I will try to stay positive and apolitical.

I may fail at this from time to time, but by and large I want this blog to be a place of refuge for my readers that, among other things, encourages clear thinking. IMO, negativity and politics both distract from that goal, so I will aim to avoid them.

Rule 3 #

I may use the word “their” even when a singular pronoun would be more grammatically correct.

I prefer this because it’s how most normal people actually speak, and I like writing in a conversational tone. IMO, whenever (a) you have to twist yourself into a pretzel to follow a grammatical rule and (b) breaking the rule wouldn’t introduce any undue ambiguity, then your best option is to break the grammatical rule (I call this the Pretzel Rule).

For most normal people, saying “Any experienced manager will tell you they made a lot of mistakes along the way” just rolls off the tongue better than “Any experienced manager will tell you he or she made a lot of mistakes along the way.” The latter sounds less conversational, so I prefer the former.

NOTE: In cases where using “their” actually would cause undue ambiguity, then of course it's better to use the appropriate singular pronoun(s). This is a judgment call (and is the point of item (b) of the Pretzel Rule). Precision and conversational tone are both valuable – just try to balance them as best you can under the circumstances.

Rule 4 #

I may end sentences with prepositions.

Similar to Rule 3, this one also stems from the Pretzel Rule. Although (arguably) grammatically incorrect, I’d prefer saying “Niles is fun to argue with” instead of “Niles is a person with whom it’s fun to argue.” The latter sounds snooty, and the never-end-a-sentence-with-a-preposition rule often leads to needlessly confusing syntax (which, IMO, means it's a stupid rule).

Sure, there are usually ways to re-write your sentence in a smoother way while still following the rules of grammar. For example, I could just say “It’s fun arguing with Niles.” But sometimes there is an aesthetic or rhetorical reason to start a sentence with a particular word or clause, and in those cases it often makes sense to eschew technical grammatical rules that may otherwise prevent you from making your point in the clearest, most efficient way.

Rule 5 #

No pop-ups, ever.

I hate pop-ups, and I also try to live by the golden rule. Fortunately for you, that particular combination of personal preferences and beliefs prevents me from adding pop-ups to this site!

Rule 6 #

I won’t use Oxford commas unless required to avoid ambiguity.

Omitting Oxford commas (aka serial commas) is an intentional stylistic choice for me. That said, in my personal hierarchy of writing values, clarity trumps both style and consistency (which is why I add the “unless required to avoid ambiguity” exception). This means that I’ll still use Oxford commas now and then. If you think I’ve been needlessly inconsistent on this, please feel free to point it out. If I think you’re right, I’ll fix it (per Rule 1).

Rule 7 #

I am a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer.

I practiced as a full-time corporate attorney for about five years, and I still have a small side practice. That said, absolutely nothing on this site constitutes legal, financial or tax advice! Unless I have indicated otherwise to you in direct, written, personal communication, I am not your lawyer, and you should not make any important decisions based on anything I say here or on any of my social channels.