From Entrepreneur to NBC News, there’s a lot of confusion about how to write about ranges.
I cringed while writing that sentence. Here’s why.
When you write from A to Z to refer to multiple items, you’re describing a range. That means A must be the logical start point and Z must be the conclusive end point.
That’s why it’s from A to Z, not from W to D, or G to 5, or @ to Poughkeepsie. And it certainly shouldn’t be from Entrepreneur to NBC News.
Range Against the Machine
When ranges don’t make sense, readers have no idea what’s going on. How would you make sense of these recent headlines from, you guessed it, Entrepreneur and NBC News.
“The Full List of Major U.S. Companies Slashing Staff Next Year, from Nike to Intel” — Entrepreneur
If Nike is the starting point of the range, and Intel is the end point, what companies are in the middle?
“From Pennsylvania to Arizona, Some States May Change Up How They Run Primaries” — NBC News
After reading from Pennsylvania to Arizona, how do you know what other states are considering changing their primary processes? (My initial reaction to that headline was to start planning a cheesesteak-to-energy-vortex road trip. Consider it a driving range. Who’s in?)
A Range of Options
Like most grammatical challenges, illogical ranges can often be fixed with a little rewriting. Here’s how I would have handled the examples above:
- The Full List: Nike, Intel, and Every Other Major U.S. Company Slashing Staff Next Year
- Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Others May Change Up How They Run Primaries
The next time you’re about to write something like from A to Z, ask yourself:
- If you were writing a list and putting it in order, would A be the first item and Z be the last item?
- If you were reading the sentence for the first time, would you automatically know what came between A and Z?
Use a range if you can answer yes to both questions. If you can’t, consider constructing your sentence differently.
From the tiniest tweet to monster-sized manuscripts, anything you write will improve when you use ranges correctly and keep your readers in mind.