Tag Archives: copyediting

The Bad Commas of Eats, Shoots and Leaves


Before I write anything else, let me state that I like Lynn Truss’s book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It is funny, and it has a few good pointers on punctuation. However, she follows the “do as I say, not as I do” school of grammar instruction. 

If you read Eats, Shoots and Leaves for the rules and guidelines she espouses, you’ll do fine. However, if you read it to immerse yourself in clear, consistent, and accurate writing that exemplifies good punctuation use, you may be confused. 

Commas with Introductory Descriptions 

We can find many cases of inconsistent usage, such as Truss’s use of a comma when she starts sentences with nowadays, as follows: 

Nowadays, the convention for starting a new sentence with a capital letter…. (p. 23)
Nowadays the fashion is against grammatical fussiness. (p. 95)
Nowadays we write…. (p. 187) 

The first example is correct. We put a comma after introductory adverbial descriptions, including nowadays. (Introductory = before the subject; adverbial = modifies or describes the main verb in some way) This follows Zen Comma Rule G: Put a comma after introductory clauses and phrases.  Continue reading

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Location Matters in Writing


“The vegetables rotted on the counter and began to stink.”

What do realtors say matters most? Location, location, location. This principle is as true in writing as it is in realty. The word order and placement determines not only whether you communicate clearly but also whether you present yourself credibly. 

This is especially true when using two-part expressions, such as either…or, not only…but also, and both…and. (The technical term for these two-part expressions is correlative pair.) If you put the words in the wrong place, your reader will be confused about your meaning, and you will have a parallelism problem. 

Let’s first learn about parallelism problems and then apply that knowledge to these 2-part expressions. Continue reading

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Creating Style Guides for Professional Documents


You have a document, and it has special formatting. Perhaps it has heading styles, block quotes, references, and the like. Maybe you need to use APA style or MLA style. Perhaps your document has special chapter titles. Keeping track of these styles—and using them consistently—can be a chore. 

What Is a Style? 

As discussed here, a style is basically the format for a particular type of text. A style sheet will help you keep track of the various text formats in your document, whether it’s a business letter, a technical manual, a dissertation, or a novel. 

The style for a particular type of text can have many attributes. Common attributes include font size and face, text color, indentation, paragraph spacing (space or blank lines before and after the paragraph), line spacing, paragraph spacing, justification (right, left, center, block), capitalization style, and text styling (bold, italics, underlined, superscript, etc.). 

With so many attributes to remember, you may have difficulty applying them consistently. I see this often. A client will have a subheading in bold text, another one in italics, and even a third in bold and underlined. Some paragraphs will have a 0.5-inch first line indent with left justification, and others will have no indent with block justification.  Continue reading

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