Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Common Mistakes Editors Find--Carol Brinneman

My editor job requires that I examine writing closely, picking noxious nits out of otherwise healthy, happy articles. Here are a few common mistakes I see over and over. (I follow Chicago Manual of Style.)

· A comma follows the state or country name in running text: Mobile, Alabama, …
· IN, MI, NY are postal codes. Instead of IN, use Indiana or Ind., etc. (This rule is presently in flux and possibly dying a slow death.)

· Apostrophes are not needed in plurals, such as NGOs, 1900s, unless confusion results without them.
· Probably the most common spelling mistake made in English is confusing its (possessive) and it’s (it is). Double check!

Bible verses
· Placing a Bible verse at the head of a story/paragraph is not as effective as working it into your article.
· For referencing verses in running text, close your quote with quote marks, then put the reference in parentheses (abbreviate book name, or not), then follow with a period. Example: The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

· People often cap many words that should not be. Examine why you want to capitalize a word. Is it a proper noun? Is it a title? Or is it only a subhead, which would not demand all caps?
· Note correct capitalization on these common words: Internet or Net; Scriptures, scriptural; Web or Web site; website.

· A comma should follow the year in running text: August 9, 2009, ….
· For dates, using th/nd/rd is not preferred; write August 9 (not August 9th, even though we do pronounce it that way!).
· A dash between numbers requires an en dash, as in August 9–12.

Ellipsis points
Many people use ellipsis points excessively and incorrectly. Ellipsis points can be used to:
1. Show that words or sentences or paragraphs have been deleted from a quote.
2. Show that you will continue your message on the next line (I find this grossly overused as a design element that is not needed.)
3. End a sentence (no space preceding ellipsis), showing that you could say more, but won’t…
4. Make a dramatic pause. Use this rarely.
Do not mix use 1 with the others in the same piece, which would create confusion.

· Book, song, movie/film/video titles, and names of boats should be italicized.
· Words emphasized should preferably be set in italics, rather than in all caps or bolded.
· Bible verses do not need to be italicized in most cases; italics might be used as a design function.

Spell out any one-digit number: one, two, three, etc. Exceptions: chapter 1; page 3.

Quote marks, apostrophes
Make sure all quote marks are curved (“smart”). In Word, to get curved quotes, do a Find for a quote mark (single or double) and Replace All with the same quote mark; they will be changed automatically to smart ones. Do the same for apostrophes.

Double spaces
For a final check, do a Find for double spaces and Replace with one (changing one at a time is safest!).

Your attention to such details will no doubt please editors you hope to impress.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I had to scurry back and italicize all the titles of books that I had in my latest blog. Thanks for the editing tips! Also for the free edit.


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