by Barbara McNichol
“I’m not expecting Shakespeare.”
Your boss or colleague has probably said something along these lines after asking for a memo or briefing on a tight timeline.
Business communication should be quick, precise, and easily digestible. Deadlines aren’t negotiable and accuracy is vital.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw out grammar norms, or ignore subtlety in word choice. In fact, following grammar rules enhances clarity and can make your writing more persuasive.
An excellent example of this is the use of such as versus like.
Two choices. Two meanings.
Understanding the difference between such as and like in a sentence is straightforward on a purely meaning-based level.
- Such as indicates inclusion.
- Like indicates a comparison.
One signals that you’re about to identify some things or concepts that are part of a larger cluster. The other signals that you’re going to identify something or some concept that is similar to the thing you’re highlighting.
So, for example:
Katherine has been very successful with development projects that include challenges such as fuel efficiency and adaptive technology for transportation.
Fuel efficiency and adaptive technology are two – but not the only – challenges in a range that Katherine likes to tackle during development projects. If you’re considering her for a specific project, assigning her to these two areas of expertise will bear fruit.
Jonas has always wanted to visit Chicago’s famous museums, such as The Museum of Science and Industry and The Museum of Contemporary Art.
Jonas has specific museums he wants to visit including, but not limited to, these two locations.
Chris excels at human resource projects like team-building and departmental performance reviews.
Chris is good at human resource-based projects that are similar to team-building and performance reviews.
Tanisha is a life-long student of ancient ruins like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat.
Tanisha has an interest in ancient history and has learned about sites similar to these ones in Guatemala and Cambodia.
Such as versus like: style versus substance.
Choosing such as over like and vice versa isn’t a grammatical deal-breaker, even though following the rules gives you greater clarity in your message.
However, there’s a lack of consensus from a stylistic point of view, both in fiction and academic writing. Some writers believe such as “sounds” more academic and sophisticated…or stuffy in the extreme. Depending upon the audience, like is considered more approachable and informal compared to such as.
Academic guides like The Chicago Manual of Style steer clear of the debate altogether, addressing only the use of commas before or after such as.
Fiction authors may choose one over the other to maintain a rhythm or create alliteration in their prose. While few people want to read a grammatical “anything goes” style of story-telling, there’s more poetic license for a word artist than for a scholar or someone writing technical manuals, for example.
The choice will be clear if there’s clarity in your thoughts.
As with almost every rule of grammar, if you’re clear about the message you’re trying to convey, the grammatically correct word or phrase will be more obvious.
When considering such as versus like, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I want the reader to visualize specific examples or think in general terms?
- Do I have a specific idea or product I want to promote, or do I want to inspire a broader demand or interest?
- Am I trying to narrow the reader’s focus, or widen their perspective on an idea or product?
If you want your reader to expand their thinking, using such as will lead them there. If you want your reader to compare and contrast options more critically, opt for like in your sentence.
Persuasive writing that follows the rules of grammar is a great persuader. Whether you’re pitching a new product, seeking a job, a promotion, or leading a team that’s working remotely, clear communication is key.
Take the time to learn the rules of grammar and use them to your advantage in your writing – at work, at school, as you pen your autobiography, or how-to book.
Need help figuring out which to use, such as or like? Leave your question in the comments below. And remember, you can take the guess-work out of grammar: get my weekly WordTrippers delivered to your inbox and get tips and tricks that will help you avoid grammar miscues.
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This article was originally published in 2015, but has been updated in 2020 just for you!