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Common Mistakes Writers Make When Writing
For those writers who are planning to publish a book, I just hope that your manuscript goes through thorough editing before it goes to print. It’s especially important for those who self-publish or use on-demand publishing services to bring their book to market. These methods usually do not require or offer editing services to remove errors that can cost you credibility as an author.
As an editor for individual authors as well as working as a contracted editor for two publishers, I have seen many grammatical or mechanical errors in manuscripts. I will share some of the more common mistakes in the hope that you can avoid these pitfalls.
Please note that the Associated Press (AP) style is often used for journalistic works such as newspapers and Web texts. The examples I will use are from the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) published by the University of Chicago Press. It is one of the most respected and trusted guides for literary works such as books.
1. A common mistake in most of the books I edit or proofread occurs in the title, headings, and subheaders. The Chicago Manual of Style 7.127 states: In regular capitalization of the title, also known as title style, the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if , because, as, that, etc. ) are capitalized. Articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor), and prepositions, regardless of length, are lowercase unless they are the first or last word of the subject or subtitles.
2. A book is not entitled (meaning entitled, allowed, permitted); it is titled (meaning it has a title, label, or name).
3. Titles of books, record albums, movies, TV shows, and screenplays should be in italic type. Do not use “quotation” marks. Do not underline these titles unless you are formatting them for a bibliography. However, article titles and poem and song titles are inside quotation marks.
4. Unless a word is an acronym, it should not be in ALL CAPS. Use italics for emphasis.
5. OK should be written: okay.
6. ISBN is the acronym for International Standard Book Number. Writing the “ISBN number” is the same as stating the International Standard Book Number number. Preferably use the word “number” or the pound symbol (#) after the ISBN.
7. Percentage symbols (%) should be written as “percent” unless used in a chart or table. Numbers followed by a percentage must be in numeric form. Example: 91 percent. However, if a percent is the first word of a sentence in a literary work, it should be spelled out. Example: Ninety one percent of the students passed the exam.
8. Use one space (not two) after a period, question mark, colon, or semi-colon. This is the opposite of what we were taught in typing class long ago! It can be a hard habit to break.
9. CMOS 5.57 states, “In a series listing three or more items, the elements are separated by a comma.” Example: The dog, cat, hippo, and cow jumped over the moon.
10. When writing years, do not use an apostrophe. Example: 1960s, not 1960’s unless you want the possessive form of the word. In short: ’60s right; The 60’s are not right. Notice that the apostrophe [ ‘ ] is used as a placeholder for missing numbers, and not a close quotation mark [ ‘ ] facing the opposite direction.
11. Speaking of years, hyphens and numbers are used when you write “the 16-year-old boy.” No hyphen is needed, and the number is spelled out when you write “the boy is sixteen years old.”
12. Internet is a proper noun and the first letter must be capitalized. The debate over whether the Web should be capitalized or not is still ongoing. CMOS says it should be written in right case. It is another name for the World Wide Web, which is a proper noun.
RE: Web site. If a word is used regularly, its spelling is usually acceptable even if it is incorrect. The most common spelling and usage of this word is website. But, according to CMOS, it’s two words: Web site. As long as you’re consistent with your book or document, I doubt most people will question the spelling.
13. The em dash [-] defined as one em (letter “m”) wide. A double hyphen is converted to an em dash-if you type two dashes (hyphens) — and don’t put a space before or after it. Or, you can create an em dash in Windows-based programs by pressing and holding Caps Lock and Alt while typing 0151 on your number key pad. Like a parenthetical phrase (like this one), the em dash separates clauses in a sentence.
14. The en dash [-] an en (letter “n”) width: half the width of an em dash. The en dash is used to indicate a closed range, or connection between two things of almost any kind: numbers, people, places, etc. Example: June-July 2008. Create an en dash in Windows-based programs by pressing and holding Caps Lock and Alt while typing 0150 on your number key pad. There must be no space before or after the en dash.
15. When writing dialogue, all punctuation is enclosed in quotation marks. If a word or phrase is used to separate the text of the scare quotes, the first example below is correct; the second is incorrect:
Every day we hear that gas prices have hit an “all time high.” Every day we hear that the price of gas has hit an “all time high”.
16. Numbers less than ten should always be written. Some style guides disagree about higher numbers. Chicago emphasizes that all numbers below 101 must be written down. When in question, always consult a style guide. Be consistent and use the same style guide throughout the document or manuscript. Correcting these common mistakes will make your manuscript easier and more enjoyable to read.
If you need help preparing your book manuscript, our team of editors will be happy to help you. Our rates are cheaper than you expect. Check out writersinthesky.com for more information.
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