A Matter of Style. Copy Editing Basics. Janitor. Gatekeeper. Clarity Accuracy Tone Reputation. SOME MAIN AREAS. Punctuation Periods Question Marks Exclamation points Commas Semicolons Colons Dashes Parentheses Brackets Apostrophes Quotation Marks Mechanics Abbreviations
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A Matter of Style Copy Editing Basics
Clarity • Accuracy • Tone • Reputation
SOME MAIN AREAS • Punctuation • Periods • Question Marks • Exclamation points • Commas • Semicolons • Colons • Dashes • Parentheses • Brackets • Apostrophes • Quotation Marks • Mechanics • Abbreviations • Capitalization • Hyphenation • Numbers • Spelling • Usage • Sentence fragments • Dangling or misplaced modifiers • Shifts in verb tense • Subject-verb agreement • Pronoun-antecedent agreement • Wrong words or phrases (see BUGABOOS, way below) • Style • Wordiness • Overuse of passive voice • Clichés
PECULIAR TO THE NEWS BIZ: • News style in capitalization • News style in abbreviation • Punctuation • Numbers • Italics
Newspaper style in capitalization • As in standard English, proper names including people, places, holidays, days and months, big events or eras are capitalized. (Uncle John, Aunt Sarah, Mom, Dad; BUT my uncle, my aunt, my mom, my dad; Fourth of July, July 4th, Memorial Day; World War II, the Great Depression, the Roaring Twenties) • In news style, generally: • Capitalize titles in front of proper names but not after names or standing alone. • Superintendent William Wallace, but William Wallace, superintendent of schools, and the school superintendent • Same with places: • W&L University, but the university; Main Street, but down the street • In general, encourage your writers and editors NOT to capitalize generics: • the prom, the marching band, the homecoming game … it’s astonishing the stuff people want to capitalize, but all those letters up and down only SLOW THE READER’S EYE. NOT what we want! • So, the marching band, the East Jabib marching band, the East Jabib Tigers • (If you are teaching a J class that addresses public relations, marketing and other forms of persuasive writing, the rules for capitalization change: within reason, the writer capitalizes everything in the way of titles and the like that will make the client look more important. Of course.)
News style in abbreviations • As with standard English, titles and degrees get abbreviated: Mr., Mrs., Ms. (but Miss), Dr., Sen., Rep., Jr., Sr., Ph.D., B.A., M.S.; • Also agencies and organizations; but in news style, usually give the full title on first reference with the abbreviation in parentheses: The National Organization of Women (NOW); the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE); • Some news organizations don’t give the full title for very well known abbreviations such as the FBI, CIA, AAA, AA … and note that current style is NOT to put periods after the letters in an abbreviation. (The abbreviations look smoother without the periods; they’re easier on the eyes.)
News organizations almost always have a memory device for which kinds of roads get an abbreviation: • STAB, for St., Terr., Ave., Blvd., meaning that everything else – Drive, Lane, Road, or whatever, will be written out in an address. At the Philadelphia Inquirer at one point, it was BARDS: Blvd., Ave., Rd., Dr., St. • EX: 17 W. Second St.; 340 N. Fisherton Rd.; 5 E. Truman Blvd.; 24 Pearl Lane; 3 Starr Dr. or 3 Starr Drive, all depending on what YOUR news organization has decided. BUT your news organization may also decide that that’s only in an address – if you are just talking about the street itself, it is Second Street, Delaware Avenue, or Byberry Road. • The obvious advantage is that abbreviating saves time and space, and that’s good if the abbreviation is readily understood by the reader. But if the abbreviation is obscure, it only slows your reader down. This is a case where YOU and your editors get to decide! Go with what works for you and the readers. Just be consistent.
PUNCTUATION • Except for the serial comma, which tends to be used in academic writing and NOT in news style, news punctuation pretty much follows standard usage. • Punctuation around quotation marks typically confuses novice editors. Standard American style says commas and periods always go inside quotation marks; colons and semicolons are always outside quotation marks; and question marks and exclamation points vary. • He said, “Where are you going?” • She replied, “I don’t know!” BUT: • Has anyone read the article “Biden’s Big Mistake”? (The name of the article wasn’t “Biden’s Big Mistake?” in this case.) • NOTE: The British tend to put commas and periods OUTSIDE quotes, where American style doesn’t. Students who are reading, for instance, British novels, will have seen it both ways, and they may be confused, or think you can do it any way you want. (British spelling also varies from American, and students who are paying attention may also be confused when they see British style in spelling: marvellous, labour, organise, defence … for examples of Brit spelling and punctuation that you can use in class or in an editing workshop, some articles from The Economist magazine are included in the handouts.)
Commas and nonessential words, phrases or clauses • American news style uses “that” a lot in places where the Brits would use “which.” Typically, “which” introduces a nonessential clause, also called “nonrestrictive.” Think of these clauses almost as if they were asides; you could put them in parentheses, but instead you use commas. The same strategy works for nonessential words and phrases. • My brother, Andrew, isn’t coming with us. (Andrew is the only brother you have, so if you take out the “parenthetical” part, the sentence is still true: your brother isn’t coming.) • My brother Andrew isn’t coming with us. (But some of your other brothers might.) • The book, which was on the table, has disappeared. (The book has disappeared. Still true; it’s the only book in question.) • The book that was on the table has disappeared. (But perhaps the books under the table, and the ones on the sofa, the stove and the front porch are still in plain view.)
Parentheses: • The punctuation is common sense, if you think about it. (A whole sentence inside parentheses gets its punctuation inside the “box,” if you will; anything less than a whole sentence doesn’t. For an example of the latter, see above – the use of parentheses in the taco sentence.) • Dashes: • Don’t use a hyphen where a dash is needed. It makes the sentence really hard to read. To get the computer to make a proper dash when it doesn’t want to, type two hyphens, hit the space bar once, type a single letter (like “x”), and hit the space bar again. Voila, The two hyphens become a dash. • Hyphenation: • You wouldn’t think a little thing like a hyphen could cause so much trouble or need a whole category to itself. Because news style tries to condense ideas, and good news writers strive to write as tightly as possible, you get a lot of compound words being used as adjectives. WHEN THEY PRECEDE THE WORD THEY’RE MODIFYING, it’s typically news style to hyphenate them. That way, the reader’s eye can take in the whole word cluster and sort it out immediately. • The iron-clad rule; the well-intentioned comment; the down-and-dirty tactic; the well-liked politician; the little-known fact, the bad-tempered dog, the two-mile hike, the eight-inch stick … BUT: • The politician was well liked. Their tactics were about as down and dirty as you could imagine. I have to say, I think that fact is little known if not downright obscure. The stick is about eight inches long. (IF YOU LISTEN, you can hear the hyphen; two words that want to be hyphenated are typically run together in speaking, with less of a pause between them than when they follow later in the sentence. Try it.) • Some compound phrases occur so often that newspapers don’t hyphenate them – perhaps just because it would drive the copy desk crazy to try to fix them all! • EX.The high school prom; real estate transactions; my second grade teacher. (BUT: They are first-rate teachers; our teachers are first rate.)
NUMBERS • In newspapers, the rule generally is to use words for numbers one through nine, and numerals for numbers 10 and up. This saves space, and also, the numerals kind of pop out of the text at you; they’re easier to see, easier to read. Again, this makes the reading move faster: 101 Dalmatians is way easier to digest than one hundred one Dalmatians. (Common error: One hundred AND one … but this is on the way to being common usage; heck, it is common usage, which is just one step before being in the dictionary.) • Newspapers typically write people’s height, weight and age as numerals: The 6-foot-7 rookie; the baby weighed just 7 pounds at birth; when she was 3 years old … numbers in addresses are written as numerals regardless of the number, whether it’s 2 or 2105 … news organizations vary as to how they handle the ordinal numbers – typically in text usage, it’s first through ninth, 10th through infinity … but it’s really your choice whether you want to designate, say, a street as Third Street, 3rd Street, or 3d St. Rules vary!
SPELLING • Well, what can we say? It’s English. It’s arbitrary. It’s well-nigh impossible. And those are just some of the reasons we’ve saved it for almost the very last. • There ARE rules in English spelling; for a pretty good summary of them, check that St. Martin’s handbook. And there are …
MNEMONIC DEVICES • Memory tricks of course include the “I before E” rule, which in its (more or less) entirety, is: • I before E, except after C, or when sounded like A, as in “neighbor” and “weigh.” • Exceptions: weir, weird, height, sleight-of hand, seize, seizure, leisure, feisty, foreign; plus sheik, caffeine – both more recently from other languages, where the rule isn’t reliable. • A less-known but somewhat useful trick is to remember that most often, though not infallibly, in words of two syllables ending in a consonant, a word that has the emphasis on the second syllable WILL double the final consonant, while one with the emphasis on the first won’t. • EX.prefer, preferred; occur, occurring; patrol, patrolled; corral, corralled; control, controlling (emphasis on second syllable) … • BUTsever, severed; gambol, gamboling; feather, feathered; tutor, tutored (emphasis on first syllable). • Who knows WHY? It’s English, whoa. See what others you can think of and pass ’em on, please!
Italics • Italics have replaced underlining in places like book titles or to mark emphasis. “Dude!” he said. • They’re also commonly used for foreign words except the really familiar ones. We’re not going to italicize taco in everyday use … but of course it’s italicized here because another standard use of italics is to set off words being used as examples. • If you get in a jam where the italics are already being used for one purpose and you need them for another, you can always resort to bold face for one or the other. “Dude!” he said.
Titles of books: Titles of long works go in italics; short works, in quotes: • IN ITALICS: Books, operas, plays, record album titles, newspapers and magazines, films/feature-length DVDs or videos; TV series; video games. • In quotation marks: Poems, songs, articles, individual TV episodes: • Stranger in a Strange Land; The Magic Flute; The Best of Celine Dion; The New York Times; Get Smart … BUT “To a Rose”; “My Heart Will Go On”; Masterpiece Theater/ Inspector Lewis, Series I: “Old School Ties”) • Note: Capitalize first word and all main words; lower-case a, an and the except as first word; lower-case short prepositions and conjunctions (in, on, of; and, but, or): The Catcher in the Rye.
REDUNDANCIES, EXCESS VERBIAGE AND OTHER STYLE GREMLINS • Future plans … • Each and every … • First and foremost … • Blue in color, hasty in manner, period of time … • Due to the fact that, in view of the fact that, for the reason that; as regards, it is necessary that; has the ability to, has the capacity for, is in a position to; on the subject of …
Over … news style says that with numbers, where it very frequently creeps in, over is replaced with more than. Not He was over six feet tall, and there were over 2,000 people protesting, but more than in both cases. • The reason is because … Good syntax offers The reason is that … but there may be an even shorter way to say it. • On my list for sure would be the dastardly homophones (which we used to clump under homonyms). The obvious ones for starters, the ones that Spell-Check won’t catch: bear and bare; reign, rain, rein; deer and dear, and so on … • And then the more insidious: they’re … there …. their; your … you’re; its … it’s
A trick that may help keep the possessives and the verb contractions sorted out: • You wouldn’t put an apostrophe in his or her … so don’t put one in its, if you are using it to mean belongs to! Itsis just the same as his. The other it’s is like they’re, I’ve, you’ve, you’re, he’s, and all the rest of the contractions. • BUT: WHY do we show the larger possessives, the NOUN possessives, by using apostrophes? Beats me! It’s English. But a way to keep its and it’s straight is to remember that the possessive, belonging-toits is like his, and the contraction it’s is like he’s. • (There IS a theory, BTW, that the reason noun possessives have apostrophes is that originally they WERE contractions: The man, his house = the man’s house; or more likely, in old English, the mannes house, way back when we had an “inflected” language. But we really don’t want to go there.)
CONFUSED AND CONFUSING: • All right, not alright … people probably confuse this with already, so it seems logical, but it’s wrong. • Lead the parade, but I led the parade … BUT leaded gasoline. A plea bargain, and Let me plead with you not to go. Also,it’s now He pleaded the Fifth, which used to be He pled the Fifth. Pled is now considered archaic in writing, but that’s how we still say it. Arrrggh! • Passed away, not past away … but pastime, meaning a diversion … but past time, as in, It’s past time for him to be here.
MORE BUGS: • You’d be amazed how often someone types then for than. Spell-Check won’t catch it. Proofreader alert! • And speaking of than, technically it’s still different from, not different than, even though in speaking we all say different than. • And speaking of speaking, hopefully is colloquial for something much more prissy-sounding, like maybe “it is to be hoped” or “one hopes” – stuff we’d never really say. Try to just avoid hopefully altogether. • And speaking of altogether, it means entirely, not to be confused with all together, as in, Thank goodness the overdue books were all together in a bag in the hall.
And speaking of goodness, the correct form is: for goodness’ sake; a day’s work; your money’s worth, a good night’s sleep. These are obscure possessives for which no one can handily explain the reason, and they are beginning to fade out of use even in good publications, but technically they are still the right way to do it. Another mysterious possessive construction, but correct: A friend of my son’s, a friend of his, a friend of hers.
A few more fall in the category of words whose meaning has gotten lost over time, or is in the process of doing so: Correct:NOT: palmed off pawned off rein in reigned in • BUT, in the latest Merriam Webster dictionary, the word gantlet, as in, He ran the gantlet, is deemed obsolete. The reader is referred to gauntlet, which originally of course was exclusively a glove, especially the glove you threw down as a challenge (the gantlet meanwhile was something like an arch of swords that your buddies held up for you to run through as a rite of passage … it’s not hard to see why these two distinctions are fading!). • In another example of meanings getting lost over time, one of my students wrote that he had “fallen prey to a rut.” Really, how many people are at all clear about what “prey” is, or for that matter, a rut? • Other distinctions that are getting lost: Of course, the difference between like and as. Does anyone remember the fuss we used to make over Winston tastes good/Like a cigarette should? But hey, that was back when cigarettes were cool, too. • I think the distinction between lie and lay will someday be eliminated, instead of just being hopelessly blurred, as it is now. And publications now allow “forbidden from,” as in “He was forbidden from crossing the border” – whereas a good dictionary will prescribe “forbidden TO” and “prohibited FROM.” Some of these distinctions will just plain get lost. Pick your battles!