Common editing/proofreading errors … to avoid

Posted on October 4, 2017 in Editing/Proofreading

Here are some of the commonest editing/proofreading errors I encounter when working on books, articles, etc.  Some of the editing/proofreading “rules” I suggest are fairly widely accepted, in other cases what really matters is having consistency across your document. 

Tell me what you think of these…

  1. 1980s not 1980’s – the latter used to be common practice, but by and large have been dropped.
  2. MPs not MP’s – ditto.
  3. Abbreviations and contractions – the former should have a full stop at the end (e.g., etc., Ref.) to indicate letters are missing; whereas contractions don’t, because the first and last letter are present (Dr, Mr, St).
  4. Capitalisation – when referring to a specific Figure 4, or Chapter 3, use capitals.
  5. Dates – in the UK the normal format is 25 December 2014, with no commas (US style is different: December 25, 2014).
  6. Dashes – they might all look the same, but there are three different sorts, with different lengths and meanings. A hyphen is the shortest (-), and is used between words. An ‘en rule’ is longer – has a gap on either side – and is used to isolate a phrase, as here, or to indicate equal weight to two words, e.g. north–south or Anglo–German relations, etc. ‘Em rules’ are longer still, which are used e.g. to mark an interruption of someone talking (“You filthy bast—.“). (En and em rules are so called because they are the width of the letters “n” and “m” in the given typeface.)
  7. Indenting – paragraphs are normally indented in longer documents and books etc., but should not have an indent at the start of a chapter, after a sub-heading, image, table or figure and quote.
  8. -ise/ize – many people don’t realise but -ize IS NOW ACCEPTED IN UK ENGLISH (not just in the US), i.e. organisation, realise, recognise, analyze, etc. can be used in the UK (it depends on the house style). However, in some words the –ise is part of a longer word element rather than being separate, and these always take –ise , even in US (e.g. advertise, advise, surprise, enterprise, etc).
  9. Lists – within an indented list of short items, there is no need for punctuation at the end of each item, apart from a full-stop at the end of the list. If the items are longer, put a semi-colon at the end of each item; and if the items are full sentences or two or more lines, use full stops on each one.
  10. Percentages – it is normal practice to use the words per cent in the text (not percent, which is US style), and % in tables. House style can overrule this.
  11. Position of punctuation – in the UK, punctuation normally goes inside the quote marks, but sometimes it is only placed inside if the quote is a full sentence.
  12. Quote marks – practice varies, but much UK writing uses single quote marks, and double marks if there is a quote within a quote.
  13. Titles – Use italics for titles of books, films, newspapers, TV programmes and journals (e.g. Animal Farm, The Guardian, Doctor Who, etc.).

Any comments or reactions?