I’ve been working with some new writers recently and have discovered some common mistakes within their manuscripts. Today I want to highlight those because, as I’ve said before, NONE of us was born knowing this stuff!
Two weeks ago I shared some of the macro types of document formatting, today we’re going micro.
First and foremost spacing twice between sentences is NO LONGER the rule to follow. And it hasn’t been the rule for over ten years. When you type the ending punctuation of a sentence, space ONCE and begin the next sentence. If you’re like I was at first, that’s a hard habit to change. Here’s how to get around that.
Type your document like you normally would. Then click on the Find/Replace option. In FIND, space twice. Then in REPLACE. Space once. Then click replace all. You may have to do that a couple of times to get all the extra spaces removed.
Anytime you submit something for publication, even if it’s just a blog post, you should correct this. The person acting as editor has to remove those spaces, and that takes time. Not much, if you’re only doing one article or post. But if you’re accepting a lot of submissions it can take hours.
Please don’t use “air quotes” for emphasis. Remember how everyone did that in the 80s, and how stupid it looks now. The same is true with the words we write. In addition, don’t emphasize too many words. Readers are pretty savvy these days. They don’t need the emphasis in about ninety-percent of the usages. But if you must emphasize something, put it in italics.
Use apostrophes correctly. I’m constantly having to correct apostrophe usage in blog post submissions, as well as in other things I critique and edit. An apostrophe is used to show ownership (like my mother’s love) or with a contraction (I won’t give in). The word ITS is an exception. Its uses an apostrophe ONLY when it’s used as a contraction. When It’s possessive, there’s no apostrophe.
Unless you’re writing for a formal publication, look for places to use contractions. We all use contractions when we talk, but we rarely use them when we write. We need to go back over what we read and look for places where we’d naturally use them.
Incorrect use of hyphens, en dashes and em dashes. Here’s a quick grammar lesson.
- Hyphens (also incorrectly referred to as dashes) are used in compound words, or words that are linked together as one thing. Example: five-year-old girl.
- En dashes are slightly longer and are used to separate numbers. Example: from October 7 – 8. You format this by typing the number, space, dash, space, number, space.
- Em dashes are the longest of the three and are used when you’re expanding or modifying a statement. Example: give the same information—in the same order—for each event. In Microsoft Word, you format this by typing the word, then dash, dash, next word and space. In Pages, you format this by pressing the shift, option, dash keys at the same time.
Incorrect use of ellipsis (…). This punctuation mark is used to denote a break in thought or speech. It is NOT interchangeable with the em dash.
Use of periods at the end of a bulleted list. According the AP Style Guide (the general guide that governs writing for the Internet) a bulleted list should include the use of a period at the end of each bullet point. There are levels of acceptance for this guideline, and most people don’t add a period at the end of a one word bullet point. BUT the important thing here is consistency. If you end even one of the bullet points with a punctuation mark—like a question mark—you must end them ALL with a punctuation mark.
Common comma usage. A book could be written about how to correctly use commas, and most of it would be considered wrong by the next grammarian you consult. But there are still a few hard and fast rules. Here are two:
- When you have a compound sentence, connected with a conjunction, you use a comma if the second part of the sentence is a complete sentence.
- A serial comma is NOT used with the AP Style Guide. Example: red, white and blue.
It's almost impossible to turn in a perfect submission. But there is one single trick that can cut out most mistakes.
Read what you've written OUT LOUD.
This doesn't mean pronouncing the words in your mind. Instead actually read them out loud. This uses different pathways in your brain and you will catch most of your mistakes.
I'd love to know what else you have questions about. Also, what good tips have others shared with you that have taken your writing to a new level? Leave your questions and tips in the comments section below.
Don't forget to join the conversation!