Q. I’m wondering how to style a webinar series name and the title of an episode in that series. Should the series name be italicized and the episode title be in quotes?
A. CMOS is silent, but your suggestion is one possibility. Or you could make the series title roman like book series titles and titles of academic courses.
Q.A sentence in a manuscript: In a landmark collection of essays, The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of “King Lear,” a range of scholars made the case . . . The book title is of course in italics—but then how does one treat that comma after Lear, and then the quote mark after the comma? Would the comma be in roman, and then the quote mark in italics?
A.This situation is a sticky wicket. The quotation marks must be italic, since they are both part of an italic book title. But the comma doesn’t belong to the title. According to Chicago’s preference for putting punctuation into the same font as the “surrounding text” (6.5), the comma would be roman. But this comma is “surrounded” by italics! If only we could use “logical punctuation,” whereby the comma would go outside the quotation marks, to render the issue moot. But that would be un-American. Editors here disagree on the best solution, so style the comma as you wish with the hope that its tiny size will allow readers to ignore it.
Q. Do I cite the transcript of a radio broadcast differently from the radio broadcast? I read the transcript and did not access the broadcast itself.
A.Yes—it’s important to cite the transcript if that’s where you got your information. Please see CMOS 14.277 (“Recordings of literature, lectures, and such”) for an example.
Q.I’m confused why there is a comma before “as well as” in 6.18, “The team fielded one Mazda, two Corvettes, and three Bugattis, as well as a battered Plymouth Belvedere.” If “as well as” was replaced with “and,” there would not be a comma. I can’t find anything else about this in the Manual. Can you please explain?
A.The comma tells us to read the Belvedere as an afterthought—it hints that the battered car is in a different league from the other cars. A search of the Manual for the phrase “as well as” reveals that it is sometimes introduced by a comma and sometimes not, depending on context and meaning.
Q.Can you use ’80s when referring to the 1880s? Thanks.
A.Yes. But if you want people to know what you’re talking about, and your context hasn’t already made it clear which century you’re in, then no.
Q. While copyediting several scientific research papers in different fields (mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine, etc.), we encounter some uncountable nouns used in countable forms (with plural s and preceded by an or a). Some of these words may be used across the paper more than a hundred times, and correcting these may require rephrasing some parts. The authors of the papers complain that this is how they use these terms. Is it possible to use these uncountable nouns in the countable forms if this is how they are used in the scientific field? Also, should I question every single noun used in the research paper and check whether it is countable or uncountable?
A.Without examples, it’s difficult to know how to advise you, but normally it is the copyeditor’s job to render prose in standard English and query unfamiliar usages, especially if they dominate in a given text. (It’s the unglamorous side of editing!)
Q. I wrote a report at work, and whenever I wrote a sentence such as “Most businesses pay taxes monthly, however, some small businesses pay taxes quarterly,” the sentence was changed to “Most businesses pay taxes monthly. However, some small businesses pay taxes quarterly.” Is this correct?
A.It’s fine to use however in the middle of a sentence (“In the morning, however, I like to have coffee”). But you used however to join two sentences: (1) “Most businesses pay taxes monthly” and (2) “some small businesses pay taxes quarterly.” Your editor was correct to separate them properly. The editor could also have chosen to join your sentences with a semicolon or dash: “Most businesses pay taxes monthly; however, some small businesses pay taxes quarterly.” Please see CMOS 5.207 and 6.55.
Q. When tables are double enumerated (3.1, 3.2, etc.) is a full stop placed after the number and before the space separating it from the table title?
A.This is usually a design decision rather than an editorial one. You can see examples of it with and without the period at CMOS 3.52 (“Table titles”).
Q. In “Who shall I say is calling?” is who the object of say (and therefore whom would also be acceptable), or is who the subject of is (and therefore whom is wrong)? I always thought one rearranged the order of the sentence to check (“I shall say whom”).
A.Who is the subject of is. When you rearranged the order to check, you stopped too soon: “I shall say who is calling.” I is the main subject, and shall say is the main verb. The entire phrase “who is calling” is the direct object of the main verb, shall say. (If you don’t trust your ear regarding who/whom, switch to a different pronoun and it may become clear whether to use the subject or object form: “I shall say she [not her] is calling.”)
Q.We have a debate going on about the following sentence. Should there be a comma after the word states or not? Following rule 6.28 about commas before independent clauses joined by conjunctions, I believe it would. Thoughts? “The company operates in DC and all states except AK, ME, NH, NY, and RI.”
A.“Except AK, ME, etc.” is not actually an independent clause; it is a prepositional phrase. So there should be no comma after states.
Many people just starting out as freelance editors ask us how to grow their skill set. Today we share two exercises to do just that! Play with them, and let us know how they work for you.
The Style Guide Challenge
How many of you delete a comma or add a dash because it feels right rather than because you have a specific rule in mind? Come on, raise your hand. Editing certainly takes talent because you need to understand the flow of a text and the voice of the author. However, a huge part of editing is internalizing rules. Your feelings could be spot on for taking out that comma, but you also need to know the rule (or the exception) behind the edit. You need to know the why.
One of the best ways to really understand the why (and dig into the guts of a style guide) is to use a style guide to justify every edit you make. Here’s an example using The Chicago Manual of Style.
Pick up a flyer or brochure for something local—perhaps it is for a vet’s office or perhaps it is the manifesto of the Legal King and Owner of the United States (I have one of these for realz; he wants to install a sprinkler system in the national forest).
Edit it, but for every edit you make, you must also note the rule number with your markup. If you are deleting that comma, is it because of a restrictive clause (CMS 6.22) or because the independent clause is short (CMS 6.28)?
See how often your editorial Spidey sense is in line with rules of grammar and punctuation.
The Google Translate Challenge
Sometimes you need to simplify a text as much as possible—if only for your own sake while editing to figure out where the subject and verb are and how they relate. This exercise will help you figure out the core of what the text is saying and will help you realize how complex English is. (Part of the difficulty of this exercise is that Google Translate doesn’t always do a great job, which is why translating is a profession.)
Take a sentence of English text.
Put it in Google Translate, and translate it into any other language.
Translate it back into English.
Edit the sentence and repeat steps 1–3 until you get the same sentence back that you put in.
As a warning, we have yet to encounter a sentence this works on, so let us know if you figure this puzzle out!
So there you are: two ways to beef up your relationship with editing and text. Good luck!
When it comes to style guides, there are a lot of options out there. In order to choose the right one for you, there are several factors you must consider:
Subject or academic field: Different areas of study prefer different style guides. Most English majors are familiar with the Modern Language Association (MLA) guide, while social science folks often use the American Psychological Association (APA) guide.
Audience: Is this legal work or journalism? For the former, you’ll need to follow Bluebook. If the latter, you’ll want to use the Associated Press (AP) guide.
End goal: If you are turning a paper in to your teacher, then you’ll likely use the style guide the field accepts. However, if you want to publish your writing in a book, you’ll need to use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS).
Happy Friday! We can’t wait to start getting your book selfies. They’re going to be awesome.
Today, I thought we’d take a look at just how detailed the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is. (CMS is our editorial bible, if you will.) This style guide is much more involved than most style guides, which helps us make quick decisions and keep our texts consistent. In fact, even when I’m working on a project that uses APA or MLA, I fall back to CMS for topics those style guides don’t cover.
How many of the following CMS rules did you already know?
6.21 Omitting serial commas before ampersands
When an ampersand is used instead of the word and (as in company names), the serial comma is omitted.
Winken, Blinken & Nod is a purveyor of nightwear.
13.27 Run-in poetry quotations
If space or context in the text or in a note requires that two or more lines be run in, the lines are separated by a slash, with one space on either side (in printed works, a thin space to an en space).
Andrew Marvell’s praise of John Milton, “Thou has not missed one thought that could be fit, / And all that was improper does omit” (“On Paradise Lost”), might well serve as our motto.
For running in more than one stanza (to be avoided if at all possible), see 13.32.
Q. Our marketing people want to know which is correct: The buyer(s) purchase a policy or the buyer(s) purchases a policy.
A. Neither is correct. The optional plural doesn’t work as the subject of a sentence; it works only as an object: “The title, along with the name(s) of the editor(s), appears on page 3.” One solution is to spell out your meaning and make the verb agree with the nearer subject: The buyer or buyers purchase a policy.
Q.Is it okay to capitalize Modernist when speaking of the twentieth-century movement in English literature? Many sources favor the lowercase, but I’ve always done the opposite.
A.Either way is acceptable. Chicago style prefers the lowercase, but an editor should defer if possible to a writer who has reason to depart from style.
Q.The following wording seems problematic to me: “Additional software may be required to use the fingerprint reader.” This could be interpreted to mean that the software might have to use the fingerprint reader. Your thoughts?
A.There is certainly room for misunderstanding. Transposing into the active voice might help: The fingerprint reader may require additional software.
Q.My company has a handbook called The Standards and Expectations Handbook. We intend to call it “the handbook” for short. When written, should “the Handbook” be capitalized to denote that we’re talking about the specific book, or should it be lowercase?
A.You can do it either way. Here we write “the Manual” when referring to CMOS (italic, because it’s a shortened italic title), but it wouldn’t be wrong to call it “the manual.”