Girl Friday Copyeditor and
Proofreader Handbook

PART 2: Be Vigilant: Top Errors Girl Friday Finds While Reviewing Copyedited Manuscripts and Proofread Pages

 

Errors in Style, Punctuation, and Grammar

  • Consistency issues:
 
  • Especially of author-coined terms: the smudger scum vs. the smudger-scum
  • Character names: halfway through the novel, Dr. Kaplin becomes Dr. Kaplan.
  • Webster’s variants: breastfeeding vs. breast-feeding
 
  • When to use the ellipsis vs. the em dash
 
  • “Well . . . ,” she said. [comma with ellipsis with dialogue attribution]
  • “Well—” she began, but he cut her off. [no comma with em dash, even with attribution]
  • “Well . . .” She trailed off. [no comma because trailed off is not a verb of speech here; cap “S” for new sentence]
  • “Well—” He stopped abruptly. [no end punctuation with em dash; cap “H”]
  • “I . . . uh . . . would like to go too.” [ellipsis for pause midsentence]
  • “I—they should be here by now.” [em dash for abrupt change of direction midsentence]
  • “But on the other hand”—she raised her pointer finger in the air—“you wouldn’t want to open door number three either.” [em dashes set off nonspeech-verb interruption of dialogue and are closed up to the quote marks]
  • Bonus: “They—they—they sh-sh-should be here by n-now,” he stuttered. [em dashes for stuttered whole words; hyphens for stuttered letters/sounds within words]
 
  • Use spaced ellipsis points with a space either side. Do not use the ellipsis glyph in the book interior. We typically do not use four-dot ellipses in fiction Amazon projects (unless requested by author); we typically use three,. We typically do use four-dot ellipses in most Amazon nonfiction and in non-Amazon titles when appropriate.
 
  • like this . . . and
  • not like this … and
  • not like this. . .either (and so forth)
  • He didn’t know the whole story . . . [Amazon fiction title]
  • Lincoln didn’t know the whole story. . . . [non-Amazon title or Amazon nonfiction ]
 
  • Ellipses with additional end punctuation:
 
  • “Well . . . ,” she said, trailing off. [three nonbreaking spaces]
  • “Well . . . !” she huffed, exasperated. [three nonbreaking spaces]
  • “Well . . . ?” she asked, lingering on the word. [three nonbreaking spaces]
 
  • Use the apostrophe, rather than the opening single quote mark, for contractions. The inward curve of an apostrophe always faces left (’), while that of a single quote mark varies (‘ ’).
 
  • ’n’ not  ‘n’
  • ’em not  ‘em
  • the 1950s and ’60s not  ‘60s
 
  • Commas and grammar:
    • Avoid comma splices [review Appendix B]
    • Use a comma with independent clauses joined by a conjunction (CMS  6.28) [review Appendix C]
    • Fix misplaced or “dangling” modifiers (CMS  5.112) [review Appendix G]
    • Do not use a comma with noncoordinate adjectives, a.k.a. cumulative adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that modify a noun with equal weight (see CMS  5.90 and tinyurl.com/CumulativeAdjs). Examples:
 
  • the small, red dot [the adjectives don’t equally describe the dot; we wouldn’t say the small and red dot or the red and small dot]
  • the small red dot [“small” describes the red dot]
  • the big, brown bear
  • the big brown bear
  • a glowing, green line
  • a glowing-green line
  • a glowing green line
 
  • There should be no periods in most capitalized abbreviations: DC, MFA, BA, FBI. (CMS 10.4)
  • Hyphenation:
    • Follow basic Chicago hyphenation style for compounds and prefixes [review the CMS hyphenation chart].
    • Be aware that a hyphen is not needed with compound modifiers that do not precede a noun, even if the term is hyphenated in Webster’s. Thus: He watched a full-length film, but it didn’t seem full length to him. CMS  7.81 says this:
 

When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as open-mouthed or full-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective (see 7.82), it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun. When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored). [bold emphasis added]

 

The above is our general rule for compounds that follow a noun. Some copyeditors and authors prefer to always hyphenate specific terms such as “good-looking” and “face-to-face,” whether before or after a noun. That is fine but should be recorded on your style sheet.

  • Be aware the hyphens with common terms such as “high school,” “real estate,” and the like are almost never needed, because they likely will never be misread. From CMS 7.80: “Where no ambiguity could result, as in public welfare administration or graduate student housing, hyphenation is unnecessary.” A good rule of thumb: if the term is in Webster’s, it often does not need a hyphen:
 
  • a high school student
  • a health care professional
  • a real estate agent
  • a dining room set
  • a social media expert
    but
  • a home-rule governance statue*

* Though “home rule” is in Webster’s and is open, it is rather uncommon; use your editorial discretion, and make a note on the style sheet.

 
  • Know when to use the en dash and when to use the hyphen:
 
  • pre–Vietnam War
  • Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
  • non-self-fulfilling prophecies
  • folk music–inspired verses
  • a season-ending 3–5 loss*
  • a 20–14 lead with one minute to go*

* In this novel with many sports statistics, numerals for the stats was the best choice and was noted on the style sheet—naturally.

 
  • Punctuation gets italics or roman per context:

    • Punctuation that is part of an italicized sentence should be set in italics, as should punctuation that contextually belongs with an italicized word or phrase internal to a sentence. However, if only part of the sentence is set in italics, the surrounding punctuation marks should not be italicized. (See Chicago 6.2 for more.) Examples:
 
  • He shoots the ball, and BOOM! goes the dynamite. [italics]
  • The words lose, second place, and quit were alien to him. [roman; roman]
  • It’s true! she thought. [italics]
  • It’s true. Finally, she understood. [italics]
  • King Lear, written by Shakespeare, is merely OK. [roman]
  • Vamos a ver.” His Spanish was excellent. [italics; italics; italics]
 
  • Likewise, when italics are used for interior monologue, the first comma setting off the italicized words should be set in italics. The comma is part of the thought, and we italicize it just as we would if it were a period, exclamation point, or question mark. Examples:
 
  • What a jerk, Brenna thought. [italics]
  • Let’s see, she thought. What to do next . . . [italics; roman; italics]
  • If we drive, she thought, how long will it take? [italics; roman; italics]
 

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Errors Due to Track Changes Clutter or to Editing with Track Changes Turned Off

  • Missing end punctuation
    • Watch out for a missing period from the line before a new paragraph—usually in short, one- or two-line paragraphs.
    • Watch out for missing quotation marks with dialogue exchanges—especially in quick, short sequences.
  • Stray punctuation
  • Missing spaces / incorrectly closed up words due to insertions and deletions
  • Stray words, repeated words, missing words
    • This can happen when the copyeditor recasts a sentence (e.g., moves the ending clause of the sentence to the beginning) but leaves words behind in the process.
    • Missing prepositions are common. In a wordy sentence, it is easy to overlook a missing preposition. In such cases, slow down, and try reading each word with your index finger.
 

* Solution to Errors Due to Track Changes Clutter: Hide Your Tracked Changes

Working with the Track Changes feature on but hiding the changes while editing can reduce the chances of errors slipping through  as a result of Track Changes clutter.

While editing, or while reviewing an edited msanuscript, we find it is helpful to constantly switch between showing and un-showing changes to ensure all edits have been made without introducing errors.

To streamline showing versus hiding Track Changes, create a keystroke to quickly toggle between the two views. You can customize the keystroke at

Options > Customize Ribbon > Customize button > ShowInsertionsAndDeletions

Now try hiding Track Changes in this Word document and reread these four paragraphs. It is much easier to spot the errors that result from Track Changes clutter when the changes are  are hidden.

 
 

Errors in Continuity

Continuity errors in writing can occur when

  • The author revises sections in separate chunks
  • The author puts aside the novel for a few days and then returns to it again
  • The wires of the author and developmental editor cross while making a content change.

Likewise, a copyeditor is more likely to miss continuity errors if he sets aside the manuscript for a few days or edits bits at a time, starting and stopping often.

Tips for catching continuity errors:

  • Be alert, especially:
    • In any steamy or romantic scene, read slowly; make sure what’s being described is physically possible. There are always errors in the sex scene.
    • In an action-packed scene, follow the characters’ movements, track that they’re using the same weapons, and make sure things that blew up don’t appear whole again.
    • Whenever a character picks up an object.
    • Or stands up or sits down.
    • Or is said to live in an apartment rather than a house, or vice versa.
    • Whenever a date or time of an event is given.
  • Some details such as the character’s house/apartment or model of a car can be added to the style sheet to keep details organized, but others like standing up and sitting down or entering and exiting a room cannot be. Read closely.
  • Create a timeline and add it to the style sheet. Add page numbers to the timeline for your quick reference against future events. A timeline simply can consist of details jotted down for your own reference; it does not have to be formally done. Basically, if a chronological detail sounds like it can be contradicted later, keep track of it. * Click here for sample timelines, Appendix J. Examples of details to include in a timeline:
 
  • Age of Protagonist and Brother and Grandpa back in 1965 relative to their ages in the present
  • Date that Protagonist left for Shangri-La relative to date he’s said to have been in Australia
  • Time of day Protagonist sets out for Waco from Houston vs. the time he arrives, relative to how long the drive would actually take at eighty miles per hour
 
  • When it’s time to take a break from your copyediting, break at the end of a chapter or section.
  • Query the AU or PE if continuity seems off. Alert your PE if there’s a high incidence of continuity errors. It can suggest a larger problem with the whole and distract the copyeditor/proofreader from his or her primary task.
  • If you come across a line that seems to contradict what was written earlier but you aren’t sure where exactly that contradiction might be in the manuscript, what keywords can you type into Word’s “Find” feature to locate the contradiction?
  • Examples of common continuity errors:
 
  • A black cat from page 25 turns orange on page 103.
  • Two characters are talking on the phone: <“What?” he asked when he saw her eyes widen.>
  • Two characters are standing in the front yard: <“If you don’t love me, I’ll find someone who will.” He picked his hat up off the table and stormed out the front door.>