Tag: punctuation

How to spot invisible typos

You’ve read it and re-read it, you left it a day or so to see it with a fresh eye, you even got your partner to proofread it. And before that, you were responding to the red and green wiggly lines screaming at you from beneath your typing. But, you wonder, does it really matter?

So you publish it. It’s your latest blog or a new page on your website. Or it’s a novel that you’ve finally, FINALLY, managed to send to a publishing house.

And then the shame!

Punctuation: one great secret

When you’ve drafted an article, leave it for a couple of hours, or overnight before you continue or decide to publish it.

When you open up that draft article again, you will have “slept on it”;  the images in your mind will have developed, like photographs, the words you wrote about them will have dried on the paper, the file you created will have been safely saved.

punctuation, editing

Settle yourself down comfortably, where you won’t be disturbed, and breathe deeply. Then, slowly, begin to read. Out loud. Listen to yourself, hear the rhythm and beat of your sentences, notice when you pause to take another breath.


This is when you might start to notice your punctuation.

Where you take a new breath might just be where a comma could go, or if you already have a comma in that sentence, try out a

Copy-editing & proofreading – is it worth it?

Not every writer chooses to hire a professional proofreader for copy-editing.  But I’m not just talking to novelists or journalists:  I’m talking to website owners as well! 

The content of your website has every reason to be as accurate as a published book or hard copy magazine – it’s the window to your world and it really matters.  Reasons cited for not bothering to have work proofread are valid and varied:

“I can’t afford an editor.”

“True, I make a few mistakes, but not enough to need one.”

“That’s just my style, it’s the way I write.”

“I’m going for a casual, more talky style.”

“Nobody will notice – most people aren’t as picky as you.”


Probably the most common reason for hoping to do without an editor to copy-edit is

Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot what?

Don’t be confused by the hyphen and the dash – let me save your sanity! punctuation

Interestingly, although these two punctuation marks look almost the same, they work in very opposite ways:

  • A hyphen joins two words without any spacing, like black-cab or top-notch
  • A dash separates two words or parts of a sentence – keeps them well apart from each other just like this example, which requires a space before and after it

The hyphen can serve its purpose for many years, and then very quietly disappear without a trace. Often it helps create a “new” word or idea, like e-mail (which as we might have forgotten by now, actually started out as “electronic mail”). Another one is on-line.

But I bet you did a double-take there, and asked yourself whether it should in fact be “online”. A perfect example of my point: over time, these newly coined compounds become familiar and acceptable, and that’s when the hyphen discreetly slips away. Did you know that our word “weekend” started out as “week-end”, and “bedroom” used to be “bed-room”?

The hyphen can be very useful in avoiding ambiguity. A headline such as this can be funny:

Man eating piranha mistakenly sold as pet fish

We need to go back and insert the hyphen between “man” and “eating” to understand that the man wasn’t sold as a pet fish while he ate a piranha!

The long division test was last week

… but the long-division test was actually over in 15 minutes, not that long really!

The dash makes you stop short in your phrase without actually ending what you are saying – and adds emphasis as you continue with your closing words. This can be particularly useful when writing a story or novel as you can build tension with the use of dashes.  They can also be used in place of parentheses (such as these, also sometimes known as brackets although technically not the correct term) especially if you have used parentheses a lot in your article already.

So when you are proofreading or reviewing a piece of work you are about to send, do use a hyphen now and again to make sure nothing ambiguous has crept in. And chuck in a few dashes – it helps to make your writing sound more natural and conversational.

When life takes you by surprise …

What else could possibly go wrong?

Even when life takes you by surprise and all your good intentions have to be shelved, when you are a proofreader, you are never off duty.

I recently spent some time gathering photos and memories to compile an Order of Service when my life went on hold for 2 weeks after my old dad passed away. It wasn’t easy to pare down the choices and to select just a few images to best represent our dear old dad. I sat with the graphic designer at the printer’s for the best part of an hour, as he’d broadly said the content, layout and colours were entirely my choice, there was no right or wrong.

Helpfully, he showed me a selection of other Orders of Service that had been produced for previous customers. Some were very simple, with just one or two photos at the most, others bore a complete collage of pictures of the dear departed at every stage in his long life. Some had poems, some bore the words to a hymn. Most were respectful and sad, some were a celebration of the life the person had led, and were cheerful and far from morbid.FullSizeRender-1

I was spoilt for choice. I wanted it all. But finally I knew just how I was going to have it designed. A simple, recent photo of Dad on the front, surrounded by his rose garden; on the inside, we would add the order in which the service would be conducted. On the third page were reproduced the words to a very special song that were sure to bring a tear to the eye, and finally, some old black and white snaps of Dad on the back page.

BackLast of all, the text needed to be added. On the front, his name, the date he was born, the date he died. On the back, an invitation to the wake. And in the middle, I could add something personal. For inspiration, I again sifted through the little pile of examples – and gasped as my proofreader’s eyes fell upon the word “Urology“!

Easy peasy apostrophes – part 2

My last post sparked quite a bit of a stir! The resounding answer to the question I posed: “Is text-speak killing my beloved apostrophe?” was a clear NO.

My insatiable appetite for proofreading and catching errors is shared by some like-minded contributors on LinkedIn (thank you all). Some pointed out that using an apostrophe + s to denote plurals can be a matter of which style guide you prefer to follow, or indeed whether you are using UK or US English.

American examples cited were “recite your ABC’s”, “dot your I’s and cross your T’s” which I suppose I can grudgingly understand, and can also be used in dates like “the 1980’s”, although I still don’t see the necessity for that.

But the one that finally convinced me personally that you should NOT use the apostrophe to indicate a plural was this one:

Easy peasy apostrophes!

Some will guess what’s coming, others won’t even recognise it, so neglected and abused has it become in the last decade.

I feel so hugely defensive and have a fierce need to protect it – there is actually a Protection Society for it with thousands of members!

It’s only tiny, but such a clever little thing. Sometimes it sits toward the back, and sometimes right at the back, as it doesn’t demand too much attention, and makes no noise at all. In fact it’s so quiet that people have started to ignore it completely – with devastating consequences!

Mostly it helps us out with two important things: it can help us with ownership, or possession. The other thing is it reminds us that something’s missing.

What the blazes am I talking about? A yapping chihuahua? A 21st century memory chip?

Nay! The subject of my passion is apostrophe apostasy!

What really gets me is why so many people get it wrong when they very nearly get it right! Most of us know that an apostrophe is needed when we are talking about possession, eg: Laura’s shoes. And again, we mostly get it right when we know there’s a missing letter – see what I just did – the apostrophe in “there’s” actually replaces the letter “i” in the phrase “there is”.

But over and over again I am seeing it’s when it should be its, and its when it should be it’s – but why when the same rules apply? The word “it’s” represents “it is” – simples!

Let’s (or let us) go back to Laura’s shoes. Suppose you wanted to say “the heels of Laura’s shoes”. You can say it more briefly by using the apostrophe: “Laura’s shoes’ heels”.

Hold on, you say – what’s that apostrophe doing hiding round the back?

Actually, it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. Because we are talking about more than one shoe, whether two or a thousand shoes, we’ve added an “s” for plural. But the apostrophe for possession still has to appear – so it quietly attaches itself to the end of the word. Clear? I hope so!

If you learn nothing else from my little rant today, please just take away this one thing: the apostrophe is NEVER EVER used to denote plurals! Even if it appears to clarify your message, for example MOTs or DVDs – no, no, no! It’s just WRONG to add an apostrophe!


Apostrophe misuse

My urge to pee was as nothing compared to the insane urge to find chalk and correct the glaring errors on this simple sign!

National Punctuation Day!

I am tickled to find there exists such a thing as “National Punctuation Day”! A competition is set to send in a short essay in three sentences, using all 13 of the following punctuation marks: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation mark, and semicolon. You may use a punctuation mark more than…

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