Archive for January, 2011

Copyediting Tip of the Week: APA style helpers

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011


bullet-glyph21APA style helpers

One of a copyeditor’s most important tools is the style manual. Some use The Chicago Manual of Style (as we do here at Copyediting). Others use The Associated Press Stylebook, as many newspapers do. Still others use the AMA Manual of Style, The Publication of the American Psychological Association, or any of dozens of others.

Each style guide has its own feel to it, and tapping into that feel is one way I remember so much about so many styles. But I find the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) style manual a mystery. Maybe it’s because I didn’t write in the sciences during school and though I’ve done some science editing since then, I haven’t done that much. I just don’t understand some of the decisions APA editors make. So I look up a lot of stuff any time I work with APA style.

I can’t be the only one who struggles with APA. Helpers abound. In addition to the official manual, the APA also offers these:

  • APA Style Blog. I’ve used the blog a fair bit. I like how the editors break down the rules ino simple language.
  • A Facebook page. Those behind the page offer quick tips to using APA’s style and list blog updates.
  • A Twitter feed. This is another way the APA style editors offer brief tips and point to more tools.
  • The APA website. Want to learn the style? The website offers free tutorials and an online course.

Those who have mastered APA share their knowledge as well. Check out these books:

  • APA: The Easy Way! This quick guide shows you how to set up a paper in APA style and how to cite different types of references.
  • The APA Pocket Handbook: Rules for Format & Documentation. In addition to formatting and citation issues, this book looks at what you need to document (handy if you need to coach your author) and some common style issues to watch for.
  • The Pocket Guide to APA Style. This book comes in both a spiral-bound and a Kindle version, so you can take a concise set of style rules with you wherever you go.

If you’ve been using the fifth edition of the manual and now have to update to the sixth edition, there’s a cheat sheet for that from the following universities:

APA style is not for the faint of heart, which is why there are so many helpers. What have you used to learn APA? Share your experiences in the comments section below. I’m planning an audio conference with APA to get all of our nitpicky questions answered. What do you want to know? Share that too!Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Citing electronic editions

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011


bullet-glyph21Citing electronic editions
With the growing popularity of e-readers, copyeditors will have to deal with their peculiarities in copy if they don’t already. One peculiarity is the lack of page numbers in an electronic edition. Tip reader Walter Sikora, senior technical writer at Bomgar, asked recently:

If one must cite the specific page(s) from, say, a Kindle book where the “page” reference isn’t static, what’s the generally accepted style? Have you seen anything on this?

How you cite anything is a style decision, so I checked out several style manuals in search of an answer.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

CMOS offers a handy citation guide on its website, free to all users. Under “Book Published Electronically,” the advice is to cite the section title or chapter number or other relevant number in the book’s organizing structure. In the reference section, you’ll want to include the URL if you read it online or the source you retrieved the book from (e.g., if you read it on an e-reader.

For example, in a recent blog post, I pointed readers to an article on Yahoo’s style guide site, “Shape your text for online reading.” If I were to quote from that article and reference the e-book version of the style guide using CMOS, I might do it this way:

“Text that works best on the Web is text that gets to the point fast and that makes it easy for readers to pick out key information.”*

*Chris Barr and the Senior Editors at Yahoo, The Yahoo! Style Guide (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010), Kindle Edition, sect. I, chap. 1, “Shape Your Text for Online Reading.”

Because I used the section details in the reference, someone picking up the print edition can find the section I quoted the information from. The quote comes before a subhead and isn’t in a sidebar. Otherwise, I’d consider adding that information as well. It’s not as specific as a page number, but it’s not far off in this case.

The entry in the reference list might look like this:

Barr, Chris, and the Senior Editors at Yahoo. The Yahoo! Style Guide. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010. Kindle Edition.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA)

The APA editors have embraced new technologies in service to their readers, offering a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account with information on using their style. I’ve found them all helpful for using a style I find mysterious. The editors didn’t let me down in this quest, either.

Chelsea Lee makes a good point in her blog post on citing a Kindle: unless someone reads the e-book on a Kindle, Kindle locations are useless. The point is to help the reader find the source you’re quoting. If it’s an e-book, you’d need to let them know not only title and publisher but also the digital objective object identifier (DOI) or the source you download the book from, as well as some specific location information. Chapter and section titles seem the logical choice, putting APA in line with CMOS.

To cite the same quote in APA style might look like this:

“Text that works best on the Web is text that gets to the point fast and that makes it easy for readers to pick out key information” (Barr, 2010, sect. I, chap. 1, “Shape Your Text for Online Reading,” para. 1).

The reference entry might look like this:

Barr, C., and the Senior Editors at Yahoo (2010). The Yahoo! style guide [Kindle 3G version]. Retrieved from

The APA editors prefer the DOI number but allow the retrieval site if the text doesn’t have a DOI number. In this case, I couldn’t find the DOI. (If someone finds it, please let me know where you found it.)

American Medical Association Manual of Style (AMA)

According to those behind @AMAManual, the official Twitter account for AMA, AMA hasn’t yet created a style for citing pages in electronic editions. However, they pointed me to the APA blog post mentioned above. It’s a good starting place until the AMA editors make a decision. I’ll report back if I hear how AMA comes down on this topic.

Quiet on the subject

AP Stylebook doesn’t note how to cite a specific page from an e-reader edition. I’m not surprised, as I don’t see that coming up much in AP’s world. I did ask what it would suggest but I hadn’t received an answer by press time. I’ll update this post if I receive an answer.

I was surprised, however, that The Yahoo! Style Guide didn’t mention it. I own the Kindle version of the style guide, yet I can’t quote the guide using its own style. Are you listening, Yahoo? We need some guidance on citations in Web copy. (For the record, anytime I’ve done citations in Web copy, I’ve always used other style manuals as a guide, usually CMOS.)

Other style manuals?

What style manuals do you use? Share their guidance (or lack thereof) in the comments section below.

Thanks to Walter for his initial question.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting’s 2011 Audio Conferences

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Usually by the first of the year, has all of its audio conferences lined up and ready to go. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a few road blocks with the 2011 schedule, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t working even harder to plan some great opportunities for you to learn something new or brush up some existing skills.

Profiting From Your Online Presence

In January, one of our favorite copyeditors, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit, returns with a new conference for us. On January 20, Katharine will talk about using social media to grow your freelance business or win a great new job. Here are just a few items she’ll cover:

  • Why you need an online presence
  • How you can showcase your skills and professional personality online
  • The value of e-mail discussion lists
  • Techniques for using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter

There’s still time to sign up. If you’ve ever wondered why copyeditor should use social media, check out Katharine’s lecture.

Become a Numbers Person

If you’ve ever said, “I’m not a numbers person,” our February 17 conference is for you. Newspaper veteran Mark Allen will help you understand mathematical terms and relationships. Mark has promised not to test us. Instead he’ll cover the following:

  • The difference between percentages and proportions
  • How to untangle money issues
  • How to read statistics and graphs
  • What style and usage options you have

Register now to conquer mathematical terms and concepts.

More to Come

And what will the rest of the year hold? We’re working on these topics:

  • Dealing with new words in copy, with Grant Barrett
  • All about dictionaries, with Grant Barrett
  • Using The Gregg Reference Manual
  • Learning APA style
  • Editing the soft sciences
  • Grammar pitfalls
  • Beyond grammar pitfalls
  • The basics of fact-checking
  • Web editing

We’ll continue to update you here on the blog and in the website’s conferences section as our schedule develops. Save these Thursdays for some interactive training with Copyediting:

  • March24
  • April 14
  • May 19
  • June 16
  • July 17
  • August 18
  • September 22
  • October 20
  • November 17
  • December 15

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Separating a subject from its verb

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011


bullet-glyph21Separating a subject from its verb

Recently on the Editorial Freelancers Association’s (EFA’s) discussion board, member Kristine Hunt offered this sentence she found while copyediting:

A major aspect of grassroots memorials that should not be forgotten, is that their seemingly makeshift, improvised character is actually their foremost quality.

Kristine was bothered by the comma following forgotten. Why did the author want to separate the subject from its verb?

My first thought was that you should never separate a subject from its verb. Most of the resources I checked, including The Chicago Manual of Style, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, and Words into Type, did not list separating a subject from the verb as a legitimate use of the comma.

Then I checked The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane. Though I haven’t read the entire book, I have read several chapters in preparation for a copyediting course I’ll teach in the spring, and I’ve found the advice solid. Except for this, from page 409:

The main elements of a sentence—the subject, verb, and object—are not separated by commas except under unusual conditions. Very occasionally when the subject is not a single word but a long construction, such as a noun clause, a comma may be put at its end to signal the verb. …

What makes the generation of the ’60s different, is that it is largely inner-directed and uncontrolled by adult-doyens. (Time magazine)

I don’t think Kane’s sentence needs the comma for the reader to follow the grammar. I’m sure someone could write a sentence with such a long subject that it would require a comma before the verb to help the reader with the grammar. But wouldn’t that be a poor sentence that cries out for a rewrite? What if we rewrote Kane’s example:

Being largely inner-directed and uncontrolled by adult-doyens is what makes the generation of the ’60s different.

Granted, we don’t know the context of the sentence, and the decisions as to how to edit it depend on what the author is trying to emphasize and how the surrounding sentences flow. But as EFA member Scott Bogue pointed out on the forum, we need to try to understand what the author was going for. That comma, he said, is “in keeping with the tone and voice of the piece, because it gently surprises the reader into pausing for a moment to reflect on grassroots memorials.”

Certainly the copyeditor’s  job is to notice that the comma between the subject and verb is wrong, Kane notwithstanding, but it’s also to get the writer where he is going. Scott offered what he considered a poor substitute:

A major aspect of grassroots memorials, one that should not be forgotten, is that their seemingly makeshift, improvised character is actually their foremost quality.

I like this edit because the resulting parenthetical phrase both builds anticipation by delaying the moment when we find out what the aspect is and emphasizes the importance of that aspect.

There are other ways to rewrite this sentence, again depending on the author’s aim as well as the instructions to the copyeditor about heavy edits. Marie Shear, who says she’s “a widely unheralded writer and editor,” offered these rewrites:

The major aspect of grassroots memorials is their makeshift, improvised character.
The heart of grassroots memorials is their makeshift, improvised character.

And if the editor were not allowed to make heavy edits, Marie suggested:

A major aspect of grassroots memorials, which should not be forgotten, is that their seemingly makeshift, improvised character is actually their foremost quality.

For myself, I would choose to rewrite a sentence before allowing a comma to come between a subject and its verb. But even if I weren’t allowed to rewrite the sentence, I would require a subject to be much more convoluted before I let that comma in.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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American Dialect Society Chooses 2010 Word of the Year

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

App is officially the American Dialect Society’s 2010 Word of the Year. American Dialect Society (ADS) voted last night on the 2010 Word of the Year, Most Useful Word of the Year, Most Creative Word of the Year, and several other categories. ADS has the longest-running Word of the Year contest and is the only one to do so without commercial interests. You can discover all the winners, nominees, and their definitions through the ADS press release.

Other Word of the Year Contest Winners

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Paragraphing

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011



If I think too hard about where a paragraph should break, I lose all sense of reason. Where should one paragraph end and the next begin? This idea flows into the next, but should they both be in the same chunk of text? Is this paragraph too long? Too short?

It’s enough to drive a copyeditor mad.

We know that a paragraph should be long enough to convey its message and no longer. Preferably, it should contain one idea. No wandering down rabbit holes, please. The paragraph should contain all the information necessary to make the point, and that information should be in some sort of order.

But where do you end the paragraph?

New copyeditors may be comforted by a word count. Yet a paragraph word count is as useful to a copyeditor as a cup of red ants. If all the paragraphs are the same length, a paragraph may not fully explore its topic, it may be too wordy just to reach the right word count, and readers could easily become bored with the lack of variety. Even experienced editors struggle with how long a paragraph should be, so let’s lay out some guidelines.

Determining paragraph length

  • Does the paragraph fulfill its main idea? If not, more material may be needed.
  • Do all sentences within the paragraph help develop the main idea? If they don’t, start editing.
  • Does the paragraph’s length fit with the author’s writing style? Let’s say your author usually writes short, snappy paragraphs. Will a sudden long, rambling one fit the flow? It may be that the author wants to disrupt the flow, but if not, you may need to break the long paragraph up.
  • How does the paragraph length fit with the audience’s ability to understand it? If your manuscript is meant for academics, short paragraphs may not have enough meat in them. On the other hand, if your manuscript is meant for high school students, a paragraph that goes on for pages may be beyond their reading ability (and their patience).
  • Is the final piece to be published in a magazine or newspaper? Is it an academic book? Blog post? Readers have different expectations for different media.

A word on web copy

Many people find that reading on a screen is more difficult than reading on paper. Also, when people read online, their attention span is much shorter: something more interesting is always just a click away.

As a result, the best online paragraphs tend to be very short (sometimes just two or three sentences), contain just one idea, and put the important point at the beginning. Bulleted lists and subheads are also important in web copy, as readers will skim and scan before they read a piece … if they read it.

The problem gets worse when web–or should we say digital?–copy is read on an e-reader or a mobile device. The second paragraph in this article is 4 lines and 1 word on an 8.5 x 11 page of the PDF, 5 lines on the web page via my laptop’s screen, 9 on the ebook version on my e-reader, and 10 on the web page via my smartphone. Screen size matters.

Further reading

As always, we welcome your comments below and via e-mail.

ErinCopyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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