Reference from Coast to Coast – What Do You Communicate?

Susan P. Siebers has been Director of Library and Information Services at Katten Muchin & Zavis for the past 20 years. She is just completing a 3-year term as Secretary of the American Association of Law Libraries.

What Do You Communicate?

Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and Strategies, a new monthly column written by the KMZ librarians. Headquartered in Chicago, Katten Muchin & Zavis has reference librarians in Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles. There are eight professional librarians who are assisted by a great support staff. The KMZ librarians field questions and participate in research in a myriad of subject areas. This column will highlight some of our favorite reference sources and research techniques in the hope that sharing information will help you in your day to day jobs. We welcome all of your comments and questions, and would particularly like feedback on sources and strategies that YOU use for research on our column topics.

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The best research and project summaries in the world will lose credibility with their intended recipients if the manner in which they are communicated is questionable. There are many written and verbal pitfalls which stand in the way of the enhanced respect and trust deserved by excellent research by reference librarians. This column will highlight just one such written stumbling block: use of the apostrophe in its or it’s. [Those who know me know this is one of those written errors that brings me back to my first career as a teacher and brings out my red pen — even on junk mail!]

Happily, errors can easily be checked and eliminated. Since the apostrophe is standing in place of the ‘i’ in the word is in the contraction for it is, ask yourself in each case if in the place of its or it’s you can substitute it is.

For example: “I checked this company on its web site.” Could this be correct as “I checked this company on it is web site.”? Of course not – which means there’s no apostrophe. Another example: “It’s my preliminary conclusion..” “It is” would fit perfectly here, so, assuming the format of what you’re communicating permits the informality of the contraction, “it’s” is acceptable. [In addition, to be technical for a minute, since its is already in the possessive form, it would never need an apostrophe. There would be no instance where its’ could be correct.]

If you aren’t sure that you always use these words correctly, before completing any written communication, do a search to find all uses of both versions and go through the exercise of saying the sentences out loud using “it is” in each sentence where they occur. Once you are sensitive to this, unfortunately, you will start seeing incorrect uses in newspapers, advertisements and even professional publications. The goal: make sure you’re not jeopardizing the reception of your work by misusing these words.

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Posted in: Communication Skills, Reference from Coast to Coast