Category Archives: Proofreading

Love, not Pedantry

I brought red pens for everybody!
I brought red pens for everybody!

Why do we love proofreading? A common charge levelled against proofreaders and editors is that it is nit-picking pedantry, that most annoying and unsociable of habits, which drives us. It puts us in an awkward situation, being that person who always has to be accurate. In the literary world, full as it is of bright sparks and rambling minds, proofreaders are the constant, steady hands, who always know how to spell, and are never invited to parties.

As a writer I know that no matter how good I might be at assessing others’ work, there will always be things I miss in my own. That’s why, whatever I write, I give it to another person to get a second pair of eyes on it. And that second pair of eyes always spots loads of errors. They sometimes find things that make me, the most accurate person in the room, hang my head in shame. But that’s the nature of writing – a second pair of eyes, a relationship with an editor, is pretty crucial to producing the best possible work.

hates editor
I hate my editor.

This doesn’t mean I like this process. I find myself balling up into a defensive position whenever that copy comes back, covered in comments and red marks. Even if there are only three of them and they’re all reasonable, I still feel like revolting. For roughly three seconds, I hate my editor.

What I have to remind myself of at moments like this is the reason I myself love to proofread and edit.

And it has nothing whatsoever to do with being right.

A good edit is like a manly hug.
A good edit is like a manly hug.

It’s because I really like language, the way it changes all the time, and especially the way any given individual will use it in a way that is unique to them. It’s not pedantry that drives proofreading – it’s love. Love for history, love for the possibilities for language in future, and complete certainty that nobody writes, or speaks, alone. We always need someone to talk to, and we always need a second pair of eyes.

Ending punctuation – full stops, question marks and exclamation marks

There are three different ways to end a sentence. There is a correct use for each, despite the fact that they are frequently confused.

Full stops

The full stop is used at the end of a sentence that is not a question or an exclamation.

Question marks

The question mark is used at the end of a question. This may seem obvious, but it can be misused. Make sure that the sentence is a question, and always do use a question mark when asking a question – even if it’s a heading or a title.

Continue reading Ending punctuation – full stops, question marks and exclamation marks

Full stops in quotation marks – where do they go?

If you’re using quotation marks – either for reported speech or for quoting phrases or titles – it’s important to know where to put the punctuation.

Where you put a full stop when using quotation marks depends on what you are quoting.

Quoting full sentences

If you are writing a sentence which is a full sentence, and wholly a quote, the ending punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

Example

“I have nothing to declare except my genius.”  This is a famous quote from Oscar Wilde

Continue reading Full stops in quotation marks – where do they go?

Blog

Lizzie Cass-Maran (photo by Chris Scott)In this area, you’ll find blog posts about aspects of grammar that trip people up, or often come up as issues in work that I’m proofing. There are also some how-to guides on dealing with the proofreading process.

Feel free to comment on any blog or ask general questions about issues you’ve always wondered about.

Editing or proofreading?

I offer both proofreading services and editing. They’re related services and people aren’t always sure of the difference.

Basically, proofreading tells you what is wrong with a document or manuscript, whereas editing will tell you how to make things even better.

Proofreading

Basic proofreading covers things like:

  • Spelling errors
  • Grammatical errors
  • Formatting errors
  • Very basic continuity and factual errors

If English is not your first language, it will pick up on syntax errors and iron out the language. Continue reading Editing or proofreading?

Hall of shame: Ikea finally bend space

I saw this sign on a recent trip to Ikea.

The sign claims that “These facilities are also located in the Entrance area and our Restaurant upstairs”. That’s not what they mean of course, they mean that similar facilities are located in those places.

This is an example of what you often end up with if you try and be too complicated with what you’re saying, and start diverting from using Plain English. Whoever wrote this sign is obviously trying to avoid the word ‘Toilets’. Why?

“You can also find toilets in our entrance area and near the restaurant upstairs” would make much more sense. It actually uses more words than the original, but somehow seems shorter.

These facilities are also located in the Entrance area and our Restaurant upstairs

Title case v sentence case – when should you use capital letters?

One of the issues that often comes up in people’s work is their use of initial capitals, mostly within headings. This depends on whether your document style is for title case or sentence case.

Sentence case

Sentence case means capitalising something as if it were an ordinary sentence. This means the first letter is a capital letter, as well as proper nouns, like people’s names, countries, and official job titles. Otherwise, the first letter of a word is in lower case. Continue reading Title case v sentence case – when should you use capital letters?