punctuation

Proofreaders’ Marks

It’s a little-known fact that dashes come in different sizes. Most folks know about the hyphen, but fewer are familiar with the em dash and the en dash. The length of the em dash corresponds to the width of the letter m: . The en dash is the width of the letter n: . The hyphen’s just an itty bitty thing: . Here they are side by side:

— – –

Now, when you’re typing away in a word processor and fire off a couple of hyphens in a row, they’ll magically change into an em dash…most of the time. Sometimes, however, you’ll end up with a couple of hooligan hyphens where your majestic em dash ought to be. That’s when you need the proofreaders’ symbol for the em dash:

En dashes just aren’t to be found on your keyboard, and they come in quite handy when you want to indicate a range of numbers: 1–10 for instance. Most of the time, though, people end up putting a hyphen here, because they don’t know where to find the en dash. When you spot that hyphen you can mark it up with with the en dash mark:

Here are the em dash and en dash proofreaders’ marks at work:

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I’ve used the close-up mark above my em dashes and my en dash—that’s to indicate that there shouldn’t be any spaces between the dashes and the adjacent characters.

So how the heck do you get those dashes into your document to begin with?

Well, it’s pretty easy. You can either find the dashes in the catalogue of  symbols in your word processor or, if you’re lazy like me, use these keyboard shortcuts:

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.

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Sometimes you just need a hyphen. You really do. Here’s proof:

He was a big-city worker, a cold-case officer with slicked-back hair.

is very different from

He was a big city worker, a cold case officer with slicked back hair.

In the first case we have an urbanite with a sleek coiffure who works on cold cases . In the second we have a large, chilly case officer with very tidy back hair who works for the city.

Are you convinced those hyphens are worth it?

Now, it isn’t necessary to hyphenate every compound adjective. When only one meaning is possible, those hyphens aren’t really necessary. This is the part where you use your discretion.

Sometimes you’ll see that a missing hyphen could radically change your message. Sometimes you’ll see that, although it won’t really change your message, those hyphens will prevent your reader from backtracking and rereading your sentence. Sometimes they won’t make any difference at all.

In my view, accuracy and ease of reading are both equally important. Of course I want the right message, but what good will it do if I chase off readers with hard-to-read prose? For that reason I tend to err on the side of caution in my use of hyphens.

When not to hyphenate:

When the adjective comes after the thing it describes: The hyphen is really only needed when the compound adjective comes before the thing it describes: while slicked back hair is confusing hair that’s slicked back isn’t.

When you have an adverb ending in -ly: Likewise, hyphens should be left out of any compounds formed with an adverb ending in -ly.  There’s nothing confusing about an utterly baffling instruction manual (except the manual itself, of course!).

Hyphen comic by xkcd.com

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Proofreaders’ Marks

Uh-oh, that question ends with a period and you need to change it. Well, this proofreaders’ mark is one of the easiest. All you need to do is draw a question mark wherever it ought to be: In the example below the inserted question mark is clearly visible, but you can imagine how easy it would be to miss the mark if it were buried in a dense page of text. To be sure it isn’t missed, it’s a good idea to write the word set in the margin and circle it. Set is an instruction to the typesetter that there’s a mark in the text that needs setting. (A circled question mark could too easily be mistaken for an editorial comment about a lack of clarity in the content.)

And here’s the question mark at work:

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.

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Marking Hyphens

by Heather

Proofreaders’ Marks

Hyphens are a handy sort of punctuation. You can use them to stick two words together or to break a word down to size at a line break. But, as you can imagine, a little red hyphen between two letters could be easily missed. That’s why we use the proofreaders’ mark for a hyphen, which looks like an equal sign. This larger mark is harder to miss:

But to be sure it isn’t missed and to be sure it’s inserted in just the right place, we often use a handy caret to point to and place our hyphens:

And here’s the hyphen mark at work:

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.

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Marking Commas

by Heather

Proofreaders’ Marks

The latest in this series explaining proofreaders’ marks concerns that workhorse punctuation mark, the comma. As we all know commas go some places and not others, but—thank goodness—that’s an entry for another day.

Today’s entry is merely concerned with inserting a comma once you’ve decided you need one. We’re going to use that caret…

…again to make sure the comma goes exactly where it’s needed. Here’s what the caret and the comma look like once they’ve been mashed together:

And here’s an example of an inserted comma in action:

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.

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Marking Periods

by Heather

Proofreaders’ Marks

Periods are the smallest dab of ink on the page, but they’re some of the most important marks. Without periods paragraphs become very difficult to read, discouraging readers who have to sleuth around for the beginnings and ends of sentences. And abbreviations—a.m.—start to look like words—am.

Being such tiny things, periods do occasionally wander off unnoticed, and editors who insert an equally small dot of red pencil to put them back may find that their corrections go missing in action, too. That’s where the  proofreaders’ mark for inserting a period—a circled dot—comes in very handy:

And circling a comma indicates that a period should be inserted in its place:

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.

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To italicize (punctuation) or not to italicize, that is the question.

The Rule (According to CMS 6.3): Punctuation should appear in the same font or typeface as the general body text of a document. So if you have a roman sentence that contains an italicized word followed by a comma, the comma should appear in roman.

Example 1: He’d lent his favourite film, City of Lost Children, to his mom, but she didn’t seem to like it.

Seems straightforward enough, but does this work all the time? Not quite…

[click to continue…]

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