Including quotations in a document

“How do I include quotations in my document? Should I change their language and spelling?” In a new post on her Libro Editing blog, Liz Dexter answers these questions. She explains “how to insert quotations into a text, including what to do if they are in a different variety of English, whether you should change the spellings of quotations and when it is acceptable to change a quotation,” to quote the summary.

She also answers the question “When can I use [sic] in a quotation?” and presents “the golden rule of including quotations in your text.”

Her blog post not only will help editors who need the rules for quotations laid out simply and briefly, it is a good piece for editors to provide to writers who may not know the rules.


Steve’s Hall of Shame:* Slained

Getting slained is one of the worst things that can happen to anybody—or to a headline. This was in the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance–Star, Sep. 22, 2016.

Don’t let this happen to you: Spellcheck everything—even headlines.

* “Steve’s Hall of Shame” is what one writer called my collection of bloopers. I decided to keep the name.


Steve’s Hall of Shame:* Headling doesn’t go herery

After its June 28, 2016, debacle with a front-page headline mentioning the bribery conviction of Virginia’s current governor, McAuliffe, rather than the previous governor, McDonnell, the Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star said it was hiring more editors and starting a “new process for proofing.” Clearly the process isn’t up to speed, as shown by thiw Sep. 11 headline.

Don’t let this happen to you: Read everything twice, and spell-check everything—even headlines.

* “Steve’s Hall of Shame” is what one writer called my collection of bloopers. I decided to keep the name.

En dashes – from where?

For years I wondered why so many writers and publishers were choosing to use en dashes (which are the width of a capital N) where em dashes (yes, the width of a capital M) used to be standard.

Em dashes have long been used to separate phrases and clauses—groups of words that contain a subject and a verb but aren’t written as an independent sentence. The dash in the previous sentence between the words clauses and groups is an em dash.

En dashes were normally used to separate a range of numbers (such as 50–100) or to join a compound word to another word or words (such as New York–Chicago).

In typing class, back in the (ulp) 1960s, we used two hyphens in place of em dashes–because typewriters didn’t have em dashes.

Microsoft Word has a feature called “Autoformat as you type,” and one of the choices under “Replace as you type” is “Hyphens (–) with dash (–).” (I don’t use it because I do a lot of HTML formatting in Word, and replacing double hyphens with dashes will ruin some of the code.) But if you use this feature (and I believe it’s turned on by default) and if you type two words with two hyphens between them, Word will replace the two hyphens with an em dash. What the “Replace as you type” menu doesn’t tell you, and what I didn’t learn until this month (September 2016) is that if you type a space, a hyphen, and another space, Word will turn the hyphen into an en dash, as illustrated in the title of this blog post.

My guess is that a lot of writers and publishers have not been choosing to use an en dash in place of an em dash. My guess is that a lot of writers don’t know one kind of dash from the other but have been typing space, hyphen, space where they wanted a dash, and Microsoft Word supplied one, and the publishers left it as written, or, to be precise, as typed by the author and as modified by Microsoft Word.

My solution when editing in Microsoft Word is to search for en dashes with space before and after them (in the Find menu, enter a space, then alt+0150, then another space) and change them to em dashes without space if that’s appropriate or to en dashes without space if that’s what they should be.

When It’s Time to Restrain a Writer

The editor “will see to it that the sensibilities of the readers of the book have been respected and not unnecessarily offended,” says Words into Type (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974, p. 57). I earnestly wished that the editor had followed this instruction with Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling (New York: Doubleday, 2015). Bryson is an entertaining, best-selling, humorous writer who occasionally has been a bit crude. In this book he went beyond being occasionally crude and used the f-word a lot, along with a bunch of crude and obscene terms. I’ve enjoyed some of his other work, but I was sorry I borrowed this one from the library and glad I didn’t buy it.

Words into Type doesn’t say never to let an author offend readers. Sometimes controversial content needs to be published, and some people won’t like it. In The Road to Little Dribbling, there was no need for Bryson to be a potty-mouth. Probably some readers didn’t mind, and probably some found it funny. But his humorous observations didn’t require crudeness, and the book would have been better and just as funny with more restraint.

So how does an editor see that readers are not unnecessarily offended and that their sensibilities are respected? I’ve never personally had to remove obscenity while editing, but I have occasionally had to keep authors on course. My advice is to respect the author’s sensibilities and not unnecessarily offend the author. Where editors recognize a digression, the author may see a jewel of writing. The editor can point out which portions detract from a piece of writing and how they may limit the readership. In my experience, the best authors are open to correction. Still, you may present your advice politely and respectfully and have it rejected. And if the author is a best-seller, the publisher may come down on the side of the author. When Words into Type says, “See to it,” that presumes some authority that an editor may, in reality, lack. Nonetheless, it’s important to try—for the sake of the readers, the author, and the publisher and to do your best work.


Steve’s Hall of Shame:* McGovernors mixed up

On June 28, 2016, the Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star splashed this headline across the front page. As the story and the photo caption make clear, it was Virginia’s previous governor, McDonnell, not the current governor, McAuliffe, who was convicted of receiving bribes.

Don’t let this happen to you: On the next day, at the top of the front page, the newspaper printed “a sincere apology.” It blamed the “massive and embarrassing error” on “several factors”: “new software” and design changes. It said it was hiring more editors and starting a “new process for proofing.” I don’t buy any of that except maybe that the paper needed a new process. If no editor was responsible for making sure that the top headline on the front page was true and correct, that certainly needed to change. New software and design changes should not hinder an editor from doing that. However, the paper didn’t need an editor to spot the error. At work, I showed the front page of the newspaper, and a co-worker immediately noticed that the wrong governor was named in the headline. Governor McDonnell’s conviction for receiving bribes has been a major story in Virginia for a while now, and it didn’t take an editor to know that. At an editorial level, the error could have been prevented by following one of the steps on my copyediting and proofreading checklist: check repeated information. Do the caption, story, and headline all say the same thing? No, they don’t …

* “Steve’s Hall of Shame” is what one writer called my collection of bloopers. I decided to keep the name.