Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Better editing: Double spaces and foot marks
I’ve taught a number of workshops on proofreading and copy editing, all of them for working writers or journalism students. At first, I worried that the content was too basic and that people would be bored. Eight workshops later, I’ve discovered that when it comes to grammar, punctuation and word usage, everyone can use a refresher. I’ll share some of the things that have elicited “Aha!” moments.

Nobody knows all the rules by heart (I look things up in Chicago all the time), but there are common problems you can snuff out. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a copy editor. Here are two things you could stop doing today:

Double-spacing after periods.

This habit is a holdover from the days of typewriters. The characters were the same width, and the second space provided visual relief. Most computer fonts have characters of different widths, so double-spacing isn’t necessary anymore.

I took a typing course in Grade 9, and my class was one of the last to use electric typewriters. That was back in 1992, so I was surprised to see, just last year, fourth-year J-school students double-spacing after periods.

Editing tip: In Microsoft Word, kill double spaces with the find-and-replace function. Type two spaces into the “Find what” window and a single space into the “Replace with” window, then click “Replace all.” (When I’m editing for a client, I do this before turning on “track changes,” to avoid cluttering the page with deleted spaces.) Still not convinced? Check out this impassioned article from Slate.

Using foot marks as apostrophes or quote marks.

Foot marks are the straight-up-and-down marks used for feet and inches – and nowhere else. Real apostrophes and quote marks should be curly (a.k.a. “smart quotes”). The only exceptions: Some fonts have identical foot marks, quote marks and apostrophes – ick.

Where do unintentional foot marks come from? They aren’t on the keyboard, yet they mysteriously appear. I find it happens when I copy and paste text, e.g., from a webpage or text file into a Word document. A site called Typography for Lawyers (which is kind of wonderful in itself) offers examples and explains how find-and-replace can repair the damage.

Another common problem: Using a quote mark when you really need an apostrophe. Apostrophes replace missing characters. If I write the short form of “1980s,” it should look like this: ’80s. But your word processor doesn’t know what you’re doing, so when you hit the shared quote mark/apostrophe key, it gives you an opening quote mark instead. The result: ‘80s. Solution: Hit the key twice, then delete the first mark. (And if you’re using apostrophes for plural nouns, stop! This is just plain wrong, with the exception of multiple letters, e.g., “I got three A’s this semester.” Get schooled by the Apostrophe Protection Society – no joke.)

What if you actually need foot marks? Look for “Symbol” under the “Insert” menu in Word.

Now that you know (and knowing, of course, is half the battle), how would you punctuate this copy?

Ive liked rock n roll since Guns n Roses November Rain came out in the 90s back when I was a kid no more than 4 10 tall

- Jaclyn Law
About Me
Jaclyn Law

Jaclyn Law is a writer and an editor with more than 17 years’ experience. Formerly copy chief at Chatelaine and managing editor at Abilities, she has freelanced full-time since 2006. Her clients include magazines, websites, non-profits and corporations. Jaclyn is president of the Toronto Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada.
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