Engineering has been described as the art of carefully selecting the right screw for a situation, and then pounding it in with a wrench. (Apologies to my three engineer brothers.)
Some people apply the same approach to selecting words. A few days ago I read a blog post that said some companies do some things “by shear force of will.”
No, they don’t. They may do things by sheer force of will, but I don’t think anybody does things by shear force of will.
The adjective sheer means “unmixed with anything else” or “utter” (among other things). Shear, on the other hand, is most often used as a verb, and means “to cut.” It’s what hair stylists do, and what you do to sheep to divest them of their wool. (There is also a scientific meaning for the phrase shear force: “Force acting on a substance in a direction perpendicular to the extension of the substance.”)
I believe that the writer was trying to say that some things are accomplished through force of will, unmixed with anything else. Sheer force of will is the correct phrase. (And it is so frequently used that may be verging on being a cliché.)
Be wary of easily confused word pairs like sheer and shear. Or else you may find yourself writing about the time you went on a wail-watching crews, and weighted with baited breath for your first wale citing.
(For extra credit, correct the misused terms in that last sentence.)