If you found your way to this post, then you may be frustrated by the many nuances that mark your work as proficient or—gulp—less-than. To help, let’s look at five surprisingly common editorial pitfalls: sentence spacing, commas, apostrophes, dashes, and titles of individuals.
Tip: Bookmark the Wright State Editorial Style Guide. The university uses a modified version of the Chicago Manual of Style for publications and writing. Exceptions are Newsroom stories, which use Associated Press style; in space constraints; and advertising, which may be altered for emphasis, appeal, or aesthetics.
1. Sentence Singularity
This may make you twitch, but here goes: Using two spaces between sentences is no longer correct.
For many generations, people learned to type using a typewriter. For every letter or space typed, the typewriter’s carriage would immediately shift to the left by a fixed width to prepare for the next character. Thus, all characters and spaces were allotted the same width on the page (a monotype font). To help readers better scan the documents, students were instructed to hit the space bar twice between sentences.
The times have changed! Modern computers can adjust the spacing of words (tracking) and pairs of letters (kerning) to be aesthetically pleasing. The result? You no longer need to use multiple spaces between sentences (unless you choose a typewriter monotype font).
Use only one space between sentences.
2. Comma Confusion
We know we use commas in a list or series, to separate independent clauses, etc. But commas are also used in other ways.
- To set explanatory content or tags apart. These sentences can be read with or without the content within the commas:
- The lecture is Friday, March 11, from 9 a.m. to noon.
- The event, known as Fall Fest, takes place the first Friday of the semester.
- Did you know that February 29, 2020, was a leap day?
- Wright State is technically located in Fairborn, Ohio, but our postal address is Dayton.
- Jane Doe, Ph.D., prefers to write anonymously.
- To indicate who you’re addressing:
- Welcome back, students.
- Happy birthday, Rowdy.
- Excuse me, sir, but can you help me?
- To lead into quotes:
- Rowdy says, “It’s time to Raider up!”
- To offset a prepositional or introductory phrase:
- With a good breakfast, students can focus on their exam better.
- On the one hand, snow can be quite beautiful. On the other, it can be treacherous.
Tip: Read your work aloud—when you naturally pause, insert a comma.
3. The Straight and Smart of Apostrophes
Apostrophes and quotes can be straight or curved.
Straight apostrophes, also called hash or prime marks, are used in measurements, such as to connote feet (') and inches ("), e.g., 5' 11" tall.
Curved apostrophes, also called smart apostrophes or smart quotes, are the correct marks to use in most works, including:
- Quotes: “I love editing.”
- Nested quotes, which use both outer double quotes and inner single quotes: “I’m helping him; he told me, ‘I loathe editing.’” (Note: The single quote is followed by the double quote at the end.)
- Word contractions: Can’t, haven’t
- Numerical contractions, such as graduation year: ’00, ’22 (Note: These are apostrophes/single end quotes, not single opening quote)
- Possessives: Singular—a student’s time and a dress’s stitching; Plural—all 20 of the students’ time and four dresses’ stitching (Note: In AP style, singular-possessive dress’s would be incorrect; dress’ would be correct.)
Tip: Single smart/curved quotes are often referred to as 6 (‘) and 9 (’), a visual of the curvature and where the weight of the mark is. The single opening quote (6) is seldom used, most often in a nested quote. The single closing quote (9) should be used in all contractions and shortened years. Mnemonic to help you remember which to use: 9 is fine; 6 you need to fix.
4. A Dashing Dilemma
Many people don’t notice the difference in hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes, but they are quite different and are not interchangeable. Note: At Wright State, we do not use spaces around any of these marks.
Length (-, –, —): The length of these marks increases from hyphen to en dash (named for the length of the letter n) to em dash (the length of the letter m).
- Hyphen (-) is used to join words that are compound phrases or jointly modify a noun (if the first of the pair doesn’t end in -ly). They can also be used to help with readability. Examples: student-athlete, co-op, pre-college, fast-healing wound
- When not to hyphenate:
- If the first word in a join modifier ends in -ly:
- Fast-healing wound
- Rapidly healing wound
- Common joint modifiers that are not followed by a noun
- Students prefer on-campus housing
- Students live on campus
- En dash (–) is primarily used to indicate a range or span.
- Examples: 2–5 p.m., 2022–30, pages 48–92, 5–6 feet, Dayton–Chicago flight
- Also used in place of a hyphen when connecting other compound words/phrases. Examples: Wright State University–Lake Campus, World War II–era plane
- Em dash (—) can be used to offset thoughts, phrases, or lists. You can also use the em dash to show a disruption. These can include their own punctuation for emphasis. Examples:
- She registered for Spring Semester—which would be her last!—on Tuesday.
- Her classmates—Joe, Bo, and Flo—did too.
- Her paper is due on—oh, never mind, it’s already been turned in.
5. Titles and Tags
Title tags and courtesy titles can be super confusing. A quick reference: In general, do not use Dr. or any courtesy title (Mr., Ms., etc.) before any person’s name. You can add a degree tag after a person’s name (Cindy Brady, Ph.D., and Wilma Flintstone, M.D.), and second references would be their last name (Brady and Flintstone).
When can you use Dr.? In formal contexts only, such as an event invitation: If a person has attained a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine, they can be referred to as Dr. (Wilma Flintstone, M.D.; future references would be Dr. Flintstone). All other earned doctorates would not use Dr., it would be name followed by degree tag (Cindy Brady, Ph.D.; future references would be Brady).
In a paragraph, if introducing someone in relation to their job title, only capitalize a job title when it precedes their name, but not if another tag is between the title and the person’s name:
Medical doctors (also for dentists or veterinarians):
- Director of Shuttle Medicine John Glenn, M.D., will be speaking. Dr. Glenn is…
- John Glenn, M.D., will be speaking. Director of shuttle medicine, Dr. Glenn is…
- John Glenn, M.D., director of shuttle medicine, will be speaking. Dr. Glenn is…
All other doctorates:
- Director of Shuttle Aviation John Glenn, Ph.D., will be speaking. Glenn is…
- John Glenn, Ph.D., director of shuttle medicine, will be speaking. Glenn is…
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