I thought I would offer a short post about one of the most common errors I see when I copy-edit — be that for my private clients and also for publishers I edit for. I don’t so much mean in terms of the quality of the writing being consistent which I think you will all agree is a given but here I am talking more proof reading and copy-editing points.
There are a number of words with alternative spellings: t shirt, T shirt, t-shirt, T-shirt, Tee Shirt, tee shirt, tee-shirt, OK, okay, ice cream, ice-cream … etc.
Some as you can see with hyphens, some without. We like to capitalise words like job titles, Policeman, the Vicar, we headed North to Birmingham, etc.
The rule is simple: be consistent. If there are different acceptable ways to spell or hyphenate a word, then choose the one you want and make sure you use that one throughout.
Hyphenation is more complex because it can be a stylistic choice and really the word doesn’t need it — but if you do it — be consistent, the rule is as simple as that.
Capitalisation of words is another one, if you start to give job titles a capital then all job titles now need to be the same way.
For north and south you only really need a capital when the word is part of a name like East London, North Wales, but heading north really doesn’t. But for style you might use an expression like ‘we head North’ and you want north to have more credence as a term for a collection north, but again consistency is essential. With okay there are two forms: OK and okay and not ok! And the rule — be consistent.
I once edited a MS that used capitals for all animals, so ‘he saw the Lion moving away from the Buffalo. This isn’t needed but if you do, you have to … wait for it … be consistent!
And in a proof reads also look at lists. I have read scripts that use bullet points or numbers in lists and the same rule applies — if there is a number and full stop then use that throughout. If the points are sentences that end in a full stop, then all points must end the same way.
And the consistency also means in how you use headings, fonts, spaces between headings and first lines, spaces between asterisks and so on — this is all part of making the MS look as polished as possible. Some of you might think the publisher will do this and yes I do a lot of this when I format the stories but it’s a good habit to get into. And when it comes to spellings — it’s sloppy not to be consistent.
So this is perhaps the most common issue I see when I copy-edit and proof … so thought it might be a useful exercise to show.
Most of the MSs I edit are electronic so all I have to do is do a ‘Find’ to see how the author spelled something before if I think it was spelled a different way. It’s part of my job to make note of words that I know can be spelled a different way and ‘ Find and Replace’ is a great proofing tool. On paper as I do for one publisher I have to make notes when I see the words I know have different spellings, hyphenations etc and correct or suggest the author chooses the one he/she wants and makes sure they use the ‘Find and Replace’ function.
I can not tell you how often I see this and while it’s more to do with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing — it isn’t just about the writing in terms of plot, pace, characterisation etc, you do need to get these fundamentals right!
Have a great writing day everyone!