Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

Certified Copy Editor and Proofreader

eva@vancouvereditor.com

December 25, 2011

What changes can you safely make to a URL?

URLs don’t look so good in running text: they start with an incomprehensible code, they contain strange-looking punctation, and they run together all-lowercase words that are next to impossible to read. To try to make them look a little nicer, you may be tempted to leave some parts off and gussy up the rest with some camel casing. But how do you know what you can safely change and what will break the link? Here is what you can and cannot safely change.

Parts of a URL

Without getting into too much detail, the structure of a URL is something like this:
protocolsubdomaindomain nameTLDpath
http://paulgraham.com/hp.html
http://philip.greenspun.com/panda
http://philip.greenspun.com/images/pcd0803/florence-bike-6.4.jpg
For our purposes, when I say “hostname,” I mean the domain name including any subdomains (plus the second-level domain if present) plus the top-level domain (TLD). For example, google.com, scholar.google.com, or cra.gc.ca: everything that comes before the first slash.

Editing the URL

So there you are, faced with lots of unsightly and incomprehensible “http”s and forward slashes. How can you make these URLs fit into your text a little better?

Removing the protocol descriptor

Can you remove the http://? Yes.
http://www.google.com = www.google.com

The http in the URL stands for “hypertext transfer protocol,” which is the protocol used by the World Wide Web. It’s there to tell your browser that you are asking for a web page and that the browser should use the HTTP protocol as opposed to, say, FTP (file transfer protocol). But it’s reasonable to expect that any browser is going to assume HTTP as a default, so feel free to leave this off.

If the protocol descriptor is anything but http:// (for example https:// or ftp://) you should leave it in. Otherwise, browsers will assume that it’s an HTTP request and because it isn’t really, the request will fail (if you’re lucky, the server will be kind enough to redirect the request to the right URL, but it’s not a good idea to rely on this).

Changing capitalization

Can you add or remove capitalization? Sometimes. In the hostname, yes:
paulgraham.com = PaulGraham.com
but in the path, no.
slate.me/tbFnWs ≠ slate.me/tbfnws

For the hostname, it’s OK to have a house style that puts capital letters in the hostname (Scholar.Google.com), or even uses camel casing (OurCompany.com). However, the capitalization in the path (the section after the first slash) should not be changed: slate.me/tbFnWs is not the same as slate.me/tbfnws.

The reason is in the way that URLs are processed. The first thing that happens after you type in a URL and press Enter is that your browser sends a request out to the internet. DNS servers accept this request and translate the hostname (philip.greenspun.com) into an IP address (64.95.64.40), which is the address of the server that will have the files you’re looking for. Once the request reaches the server at 64.95.64.40, the server uses the path part of the URL to look through its file system and return the file you requested (/images/pcd0803/florence-bike-6.4.jpg). Only some web servers take the case of the path into account, but you shouldn’t assume that it won’t matter.

As a matter of style, use capital letters very sparingly. Traditionally URLs are all lowercase, and to the purist, capitalization looks funny. Keep your caps for the beginnings of words (PaulGraham.com) and never capitalize the whole URL or the top-level domain name (.com, .ca, etc.).

Removing the www

Can you add or remove a www on the beginning of a URL? No. At least, only sometimes.
www.pashley.co.ukpashley.co.uk

The www is a subdomain, just as the scholar in scholar.google.com is. If you take the subdomain designation off, for example to change www.google.com to google.com, you are changing the domain name.

OK, I admit that most (almost all) servers are configured to treat a domain name with and without the www subdomain designation the same way by forwarding traffic from one to the other, so you can usually get away with changing this. But it’s important to understand that if you add or remove a www it’s not the same domain name. If you are determined to add or remove a www, test the new form of the URL to make sure it works.

Try the URLs above and see what happens. The version without the www is invalid. If it works for you, you might be using a browser with aggressive “domain guessing.” That’s fine, but it’s far from every browser that does that: my versions of Chrome and Firefox won’t guess the URL in the above example. By the way, I’m not holding up the above sites as an example of bad design or configuration. I think it’s fine to accept only one version of your domain name, but editor beware.

Removing a terminal slash

Can you remove a slash from the end of a URL? Yes.

The final slash in each of these URLs can be omitted: www.google.com/ or philip.greenspun.com/panda/.

But don’t these changes only affect people who use out-of-date browsers?

The pitfalls I’ve described above result from the way the DNS servers and web servers on the internet work, not the features of the user’s browser. However, some browsers use “domain guessing” to try other forms of a URL if the first request fails, so they’re more likely to be able to work around missing information in a URL. To make sure the URLs you print works for all your readers, be conservative about how you change them.

November 29, 2011

A scam that targets editors

A few editors I know have been approached for a potential cheque overpayment scam. Here’s how it works: the editor is offered an editing or translation job, typically with a very quick turnover time. The client insists on paying by cheque. After the payment has been made, the client discovers that he has overpaid and asks the editor to send back the overpayment, or the payer asks the editor to send some money on to another payee. After the editor cashes the client’s cheque, it turns out to be invalid.

Signs that an editing job might be a scam

  • There are signs that the client is contacting many people at the same time. The email you receive might not be addressed to you by name, or you are bcc’d on an email addressed to someone else.
  • The client shows more interest in a quick turnaround time than in the price of the job or the quality of your work.
  • The information about the client is incomplete or inconsistent.

How to protect yourself

Be careful with cheques from new clients you don’t have complete confidence in.
  • Make sure the name of the issuer of the cheque matches the name of the client. Do a web search on the name of the client and name of the cheque issuer.
  • The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recommends against accepting any cheque for more than you are owed.
  • Be aware that just because the money is made available in your bank account, that doesn’t mean the cheque was valid. According to a recent CBC article, “Depending on how good the counterfeit is, it can take weeks for a financial institution to detect the fraud. By then, the scammers are long gone with the money, and the victim is on the hook for the amount on the cheque.”
  • If your business takes on many one-time clients and bad cheques are a concern, you might find that PayPal, Interac e-transfer (within Canada), or bank transfers are safer.

Further reading

November 22, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

Dragonsong cover I was sorry to hear that Anne McCaffrey died today. I was about twelve or thirteen when I read Dragonsong. It must have been one my first forays into speculative fiction; I remember the strange words—“sevenday,” “blackstone”—and the foreignness of the names of the characters and places. I struggled to understand the mysterious Thread, but I didn’t have any trouble imagining the dragons. Giant, gentle, flying, talking animals don’t need much explanation.

In the years after I read Dragonsong, I read almost all of the other Dragonriders books, as well as a selection of her other books. Her characters were thoroughly imagined and their relationships had depth and richness. She wrote some very realistic female characters—some of them downright villains. Villains aside, the people in her books weren’t threatened by mystical forces of evil, they were threatened by natural forces, and by their own inability to work together to solve their problems. They were saved by personal courage and sacrifice.

I still have a selection of my favourite Dragonriders books on the shelf, including the lovely edition of Dragonsong shown here. I still find them tremendously satisfying stories and they are among my favourite comfort reading. Thank you, Anne McCaffrey.

November 14, 2011

Watch the process of writing

Screenshot of Stypi Paul Graham has written about the process of writing. He uses a tool called Stypi that allows you to collaboratively edit a piece of text and view the editing process in a video replay. He had a special version of Stypi made that shows text that will be deleted in the final version in yellow. It’s interesting to watch the process of text being written. It looks like a sentence is either right the first time, or else it gets rewritten many times.

November 1, 2011

Try hand-kerning some tricky pieces of text

Badly kerned letters This online kerning exercise presents you with words in different fonts and invites you to drag the letters around for the best spacing. Then see how your solution matches the typographer’s solution.

Thanks, Christina Vasilevski for the link.

October 31, 2011

Paris Review interview with William Gibson

Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction No. 211” is a lovely long interview with William Gibson.
“. . . and something I’d heard about from these hobbyist characters from Seattle called the Internet. It was more tedious and more technical than anything I’d ever heard anybody talk about. It made ham ­radio sound really exciting.”

October 27, 2011

Income tax for Canadian freelancers: T2125 Declaration of business or professional activities

Updated for the 2016 tax year

How do you declare freelance income?

I covered allowable deductions for freelancers and small business owners in part 1. Here’s some help with filling in the T2125: Declaration of business or professional activities.

Do you run a business? Are you self-employed?

If you are carrying on an activity that you intend to make a profit with, then you have a business. The simplest form of business is a sole proprietorship. This means you are not incorporated or in a partnership with anyone. You can run a sole proprietorship business without registering the business, registering a business name, or getting a business license.

The T2125 form: Statement of business or professional activities

If you’re earning money as a sole proprietorship, you simply fill in the T2125 form in addition to your basic personal income tax form. Whatever electronic income tax filing system you use can probably handle this just fine. The T2125 is available electronically; if you do your taxes on paper, you can print out a copy and deliver it along with your general income tax package.

Sections of the form

Identification

  • Was 2016 your last year of business? If you closed down the business during this tax year, say “yes” here. This lets the CRA know that they shouldn’t expect any more tax reports for this business.
  • Main product or service and Industry code: The industry code lets the CRA know what kinds of deductions they can expect to see on the rest of the form. Editors should use the NAICS code or industry code 561410: Document Preparation Services. This code includes “editing service,” “proofreading service,” and “desktop publishing service.”

Parts 1 and 2: Business Income or Professional Income?

Freelance editors should choose “professional income.” (In general, “business income” applies to selling physical goods and “professional income” applies to selling your expertise.)

Part 4

Fill this in only if you filled in Part 1 (business income).

Part 5

Fill this in if you filled in Part 2 (professional income). Now plug in all the deductions that you’ve been tracking throughout the year.
  • Rent: this refers to the rent on a purely commercial property. The rent for your living space should go into the “Calculation of business-use-of-home expenses” section in part 8.
  • Property taxes: same thing here. Put your home property taxes under business use of home.
  • Other expenses: this is where many of your deductions will go: professional development, subcontractors, etc.

Other tax information

See also:

Income tax for Canadian freelancers: Track your deductions

Updated for the 2014 tax year
Maybe you started a full-fledged business, maybe you just did your first freelance assignment; either way you need to know how to declare your self-employment income. Even if you plan to get an accountant to do your taxes, knowing what you can deduct and keeping your information organized will make the process faster and easier. In part 2, I talk about filling out your Form T2125: Statement of Business or Professional Activities.

Preparing for tax time

Even if you plan to dump the whole job on an accountant, keeping organized records throughout the year will make a huge difference at tax (or audit) time. From the simplest to the most sophisticated, here are four methods you can use:
  1. Get an accordion file. File expenses according to category (not date).
  2. Buy a notebook or accounts book and write down expenses and income according to category.
  3. Set up a spreadsheet to track income and expenditures.
  4. Use accounting software.

What records should you keep?

  • CRA suggests that in addition to tracking your income and expenditures you back up your records with source documents: sales invoices, receipts, contracts, bank deposit slips, etc.
  • Make a note on your bank statement to explain any large deposits that are not business income. Seven years later you may be asked why you didn’t declare that money as income.
  • If your bank doesn’t guarantee it will maintain your electronic records for six years from the end of the last tax year to which they relate, then you need to keep paper records.
  • Credit card bills aren’t considered equivalent to receipts (but by all means, save them as extra documentation).
  • Print your e-receipts.
  • Consider photocopying paper receipts, because some of them are printed with ink that fades quickly.

Allowable deductions

Business use of home

  • Proportion of home used for business: This can be calculated as either the number of rooms used for business out of the total number of rooms in the house, or as a percentage of the floor space. If you use a room for both business and personal use, estimate the percentage of the time that the room is used for business purposes, but if it’s used for business only, you can consider it to be used for business 24 hours a day.
  • Allowable expenses: Rent, insurance, utilities, strata fees, maintenance, interest on the mortgage.
I can’t cover corporate taxes in this article, but one quick warning: if you are incorporated and you rent part of your house to the corporation, the capital gains on your house become taxable.

Phone

  • Cell phone fees are deductible, but you are required to calculate the percentage of phone use for business.
  • I’m told (but haven’t checked with the CRA) that with land lines, the monthly fee is only deductible if you have a separate line registered under the name of the business. If the phone is registered to you personally, you can only deduct long-distance business calls. (I imagine this is because local calls are not itemized on the bill, so there is no record of personal versus business use.)
  • Phone hardware is deductible.

Internet

You can claim a portion of your internet expenses. Again, calculate what proportion of your internet use is for work. If you claim internet or a computer as business expenses, your internet traffic and computer contents become examinable in an audit.

Business use of car

  • Tracking: Keep a mileage log. The easiest thing to do is to take an odometer reading at the beginning and end of the year and record either all business trips or all pleasure trips (whichever you do fewer of).
  • Allowable expenses: gas, repairs, maintenance, depreciation, interest on a loan, lease payments.
  • Note that the car has to be insuranced for business use.

Other transportation

  • Taxi
  • Public transit passes: monthly transit passes are deductible for everyone; it’s not a business expense. I think single passes are not deductible if you’re travelling within the city, but if you’re travelling outside the city, I would claim them under travel expenses (see below).
  • Bicycles? Maybe. The regulations say that deductions apply to motorized vehicles, but some auditors are said to be allowing deductions for bicycle use.

Entertainment

This is one is tricky and often disallowed. Here’s what I’ve been told.
  • The expense has to be for the purpose of getting or keeping business.
  • The expense is generally incurred by taking a client out for entertainment.
  • Only clients are eligible, not partners.
  • Only 50% of the expense is deductible.
  • Keep a record of the names of the clients and why you took them out.
Staff meals are a different situation. If you hire someone and part of the contract is that you will provide food, that expense is 100% deductible.

Travel

You can claim travel you need to do for work, or to get to professional development events. Your travel expenses will be deducted all together, but keep detailed records of how the expenses break down.
  • Allowable: getting there, travel while there, accommodation, meals.
  • If the trip is part pleasure and part business, prorate the claim accordingly.
  • Travel meals probably have to be outside the city and are only 50% deductible.

Research and professional development

  • Professional development covers things like courses, books, and magazines.
  • For research, make sure you show a clear connection between what you bought and how it contributed to your business.

Capital cost allowance

This applies to anything that you buy—used or new—that has a useful life at the end of the year. Usually this will apply to items that you spend more than about $300–$400 on.
  • For capital costs, you don’t deduct what you paid for the item; you deduct the amount that it depreciated during the year. Look up the percentage to write off in the classes of depreciable property list.
  • If the business buys something that gains value (antique furniture or real estate, for instance) you will have to declare a capital gain when you sell it.

Bad debt

Since you are using the accrual method of accounting, you report your income in the year you earned it, regardless of when you actually get paid. So it might happen that you report income that you never actually receive. Say you did a contract in late 2013, reported the income in that year, and never got paid. You can deduct that income the next year as a bad debt.

Back expenses

If you forget to claim an expense, you can amend your tax return for that year to include the expense, and you will be credited with the corresponding saved tax (without interest). You can do this going back a maximum of six years.

Deductions not related to your business

CRA links

The CRA help number for businesses and self-employed people is 1-800-959-5525. See the CRA phone numbers page for their hours.

Other tax information

See also:

October 24, 2011

How to cite a Wikipedia page

Citations

Wikipedia citation link To cite a Wikipedia page, click on “Toolbox” on the left side of the page to open up the drop-down menu, and then click on “Cite this page.” You will get a list of citations in different citation formats. The article author is given as “Wikipedia contributors.” Example: citing their “Cats” entry.

Copyright and reproducing Wikipedia content

A quick note about reproducing Wikipedia content: Wikipedia content is under copyright, but most of it is licensed under terms that allow at least some reuse. The terms usually allow you to reproduce the text unchanged if you credit the authors, but make sure you check the terms of use for the specific page you’re interested in. You may also have the right to change the text, although you may or may not be required to allow your changed version to be reproduced in turn. Check the very bottom of the page for the terms of use. To get a list of authors, click on the “Discussion” tab at the top of the page. It is acceptible to not credit authors who made very small contributions to the page.

October 5, 2011

Good advice for aspiring editors

What do editors do? What makes a good editor? Where and how do editors work? How much do they earn? What kind of training do you need to be an editor? All that, and some answers to questions you didn’t even think of are in the Editors’ Association of Canada’s booklet So You Want to Be an Editor: Information about a Career in Editing.

October 2, 2011

Red Pencil in the Woods highlights

Red Pencil in the Woods
Last week I was at Red Pencil in the Woods in Seattle (Kenmore), put on by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. It was a great event: the cost was very reasonable, the Bastyr University campus was beautiful, and the program was well choosen and presented. I will definitely look out for the next one.

Conference highlights

Carol Saller: “Finding Our Way: Writing and Editing in the New Publishing Landscape”

This was the keynote speech by Carol Saller, the Subversive Copy Editor and senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press. She referred to a report from the Association of American Publishers using BookStats that seemed to show that revenues for print overall were increasing. She also went through an overview of the different kinds of publishing available:
  • Conventional: publisher pays production costs, writer gets percentage of the net revenue. A large number of copies of the book are printed together.
  • Print on demand (POD): a printing technique that makes it practical to print small batches of books. See the Espresso Book Machine (video).
  • Self-publishing: the author handles the whole production process. See CreateSpace, which provides a collection of online tools, both free and paid, to set up a book.
  • Subsidy publishing: the author and publisher split the cost of production and the author gets a higher percentage of the royalties than in a conventional publishing system.

E-book panel

A panel on e-books that discussed some of the advantages of e-books (authors can continue to sell books that would otherwise not be kept in print) and some of the technical challenges of the formats. Not all e-book publishers eat their own dog food. Panelist Bob Mayer mentioned an overview of e-book formats on his company blog Write it Forward: “Keeping up with e-book technology.”

How to write an effective book proposal by Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn

See how to write an effective book proposal for a summary of this presentation.

Marketing for freelancers by Frank Catalano

See a summary of the marketing presentation at Wandering Muse Salon.

Carol Saller on subversive copy editing

The last session of the day was Carol Saller again, talking about her philosophy for harmonious copy editing: carefulness, transparency, flexibility.
  • Carefulness: Before you change something, make sure that it should be changed. An example of lack of carefulness would be meticulously changing every single instance of a misspelling that turns out to be a special term commonly used in the field. To make sure you do no harm, use Google to search for terms that look odd, and if you see an error repeated consistently, query it.
  • Transparency: Show your changes. Explain to the author ahead of time what changes they can expect, and if you’re using a word processor, track your changes. Explaining your changes, showing them, and making it easy to roll them back builds trust with the author.
  • Flexibility: This is the subversive part. Some styles are really pretty arbitrary (for instance, whether you put a comma between the author and date in a citation). If an author wants to do something that is against the house style but isn’t actually going to hurt readability, maybe it’s OK.

Other notes about the conference

September 27, 2011

What to put into a book proposal from Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn

At Red Pencil in the Woods last weekend I heard a great talk on how to write an effective book proposal from Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn of The Business of Books. Some of the key points were:

Why do you need to write a proposal?

A book proposal is like a business plan. It tells the publisher:
  • What your idea is
  • Why this idea is interesting and marketable
  • Why you are the right person to write this book
  • How the book can be marketed
Even if you are going to self-publish, the proposal helps you to focus your concept and find your readers.

The key parts of a proposal

Jen and Kerry recommend that you set out these main points. You can tailor the format for each publisher or agent’s specifications.
  1. Introduction: Explain and sell the general concept. Some good ways to begin are with a startling statement or statistic (75% of Americans . . .) or a question (What would you do if . . .).
  2. About the book: State the genre or category, e.g., where it will be shelved in the bookstore, and the format (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback), dimensions, price range, etc.
  3. Competing titles: Get to know the section of the bookstore where your book will be shelved. Name four or five books in the same category and explain how your book is similar and where it is different. Focus on books that have been published in the last ten years, and any “category-killers.”
  4. About the author: What’s your connection to the material? What makes you easy to work with and marketable? Mention interesting achievements, past careers, and skills.
  5. Marketing: Present clippings and logs for any promotion you did for earlier books. Mention any events, seasonal tie-ins, or regional and historical connections that can be used to promote the book. Describe any social media platform that you can use to promote the book with giveaways, contests, etc.
  6. Outline: Show that you know what the structure of the book will be.
  7. Sample text: Depends what the publisher or agent requests, but usually the introduction and one chapter.
  8. Extra materials: Include material that supports your proposal. It might be clippings to illustrate trends that you described, more information about you, and even audio and video clips that show you giving interviews or doing demos from the book.

Attend Jen and Kerry’s workshops

Jen and Kerry are putting on a three-part book proposal series in Seattle on October 12: “Preparing to Get Published,” October 19: “Secrets of a Successful Proposal,” and October 26: “Navigating the World of Publishing.” You can attend the whole series or just the session you’re most interested in.

More information on writing proposals and query letters

September 12, 2011

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell

Book cover: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

Be your own editor

You won’t always get the perfect editor for your book, and you can’t rely on editors having time to do all the work they’d like to. Be your own editor as much as you can.

Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit is a guide for writers to help them edit their own work and to get the most out of their collaboration with an editor. Bell considers different strategies for editing during the writing process and suggests ideas for getting a fresh view of your draft. She then deals with the nuts and bolts of what to look for when editing. Later in the book, she steps back to look at the role of editing in art by interviewing non-print artists about how editing has improved their work and looking at some famous writer–editor relationships.

The book contains a lot of practical advice and examples. There are checklists and exercises to help you focus on specifics. Bell quotes from letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins, to show how they worked on The Great Gatsby and quotes passages from different drafts of the manuscript to show the changes they made.

Although the book has some concrete stylistic advice (remove excessive “be” verbs, watch out for redundancy), this is not Strunk and White. Read it if you’re interested in larger stylistic issues (intention, structure, theme) and if you’re interested in thoughts about the role of the editor in creative writing.

Be a mechanic, not a judge. When you edit, do not ask yourself: Do I like this? Ask instead: Does this compel me and can I follow it? If the answer is no, figure out why.

—Susan Bell, The Artful Edit

Tips for getting distance from your draft

From The Artful Edit

  • Read it aloud, with or without an audience
  • Print it in a different font
  • Read it in different surroundings
  • Take a long break: don’t look at the manuscript at all for a few weeks
  • Go through the manuscript with someone else
  • Hang the pages on a line or lay them out on the floor to help you visualize the flow and layout
  • Send it away: giving your manuscript to someone else can make you see it with new eyes

See also

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.

August 22, 2011

Hugo Awards 2011

The winners of the 2011 Hugo Awards were announced last weekend at the World Science Fiction Convention. See the list of nominees here. I notice that three out of five of the nominees for best novel were also on the Locus nominees list. Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis won both the Locus Award and the Hugo for best novel.

August 18, 2011

A Prehistoric Odyssey by Marie Mai Perron

Cover art for A Prehistoric Odyssey by Marie Mai Perron
A book that I copy edited last spring just came out a little while ago. It’s a great story, and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it.

When his friend tells him he’s solved time travel, Matthew Carrington jumps at the opportunity to prove his theory that dinosaurs could have been as intelligent as mammals. But in his desperation to save his career, he is forced to accept too many compromises in planning the expedition. Facing the prehistoric environment with incomplete information, unreliable technology, and a dangerously unstable team, science soon takes a back seat to survival.

The prehistoric environment is vividly described, with plenty of biological detail. The characters are very real, and their motives and agendas play out in a way that’s inevitable and surprising at the same time.

A Prehistoric Odyssey is for sale at iUniverse.com
ISBN: 978-1462018666
See a preview

August 17, 2011

Editing workshop: Writing and editing for the web

The Editors’ Association of Canada, BC branch, is putting a workshop on writing and editing for the web, taught by Lisa Manfield. The workshop is Saturday, September 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Simon Fraser University, Harbour Centre. The cost for the workshop is $100/$160 (members/non-members) until August 31, and $120/$180 until September 7.

EAC-BC professional development workshops
Writing and Editing for the Web registration

August 6, 2011

The life of a writer

Since I’ve been working at home as a freelancer, wondering whether today’s mail has been delivered yet, I often think of Robert Heinlein’s description of the writer’s life:
A writer spends his professional time in solitary confinement . . . surrounded by a dreary forest of reference books and somewhat-organized papers. The high point of his day is the breathless excitement of waiting for the postman. (The low point is usually immediately thereafter.)

—Robert Heinlein, Expanded Universe

I love my reference books though.

July 27, 2011

Northwest Independent Editors Guild Conference 2011

The Northwest Independent Editors Guild is putting on a one-day conference, Red Pencil in the Woods, on September 24.

The lineup looks pretty interesting: sessions on technical editing, writing effective book proposals, self-publishing, children’s books, e-books, and a keynote address and session by Carol Saller, the subversive copy editor.

Registration fees are a very reasonable $75–$125. Register before August 24th for early bird pricing, and note that Editors’ Association of Canada members are offered the member rate!

The conference is Saturday, September 24, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. at Bastyr University, Kenmore, Washington.

Edit: conference highlights.

July 2, 2011

Locus Online announces the winners of the 2011 Locus Awards

Locus Online published a list of the winners of the 2011 Locus Awards last week. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn was nominated for best science fiction novel.

June 26, 2011

Pulpfiction Books: 20% off Canadian list price

If you live in Vancouver, make sure you visit Pulpfiction Books. I’ve been dropping in on them from time to time and I’ve always liked their selection. They have an excellent selection of used books, and they sell their new books and special orders for 20% off the Canadian list price! I also see from their website that if you order $100 in new books in one order they’ll deliver them for free.

I like that they’re still open when I walk by in the evening. The Kitsilano location (3133 West Broadway, beside the Hollywood Theatre) has used copies of Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage (the older one) and Jacques Barzun’s On Writing, Editing and Publishing: Essays Explicative and Hortatory, both of which I would buy if I didn’t already have them.

Read the Pulpfiction Books Blog and follow @pfbvan on Twitter.

June 25, 2011

Seeing Further, edited by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson: Seeing Further
Darn it, HarperCollins AuthorTracker, you let me down. There’s been a book out since last year with a section by Neal Stephenson and I only found out about it now.

I’m looking forward to reading Seeing Further, edited by Bill Bryson, about the history of the Royal Society. Other illustrious contributors include Margaret Atwood and Richard Dawkins. In fact, even though it’s on the shelves at the library, I may just buy it.

June 19, 2011

(In)elegant variation

In a recent BBC News article about a company’s way of rewarding its salesmen, I ran across the following: “The prostitutes had worn colour-coded arm-bands . . . and the women had their arms stamped.” Gosh, I thought, were the prostitutes all men? No—I had been suckered by an elegant variation.

Henry Fowler coined the term “elegant variation” to describe the unnecessary use of different words for the same thing. You see it a lot in journalism: “Jane Smith is an avid cyclist,” continues as, “The mother of four also enjoys fishing, knitting and swimming.” We often see “blaze” for fire, “blast” for explosion, “slay” for kill, and sometimes “temblor” for earthquake. Vancouver Magazine is fond of referring to restaurants as “rooms,” although this is probably due to hipness as much as to fear of repetition. Writers pull out the thesaurus to keep from repeating themselves: Fowler’s Modern English Usage gives an example where “have” becomes “possess,” and then “own” as the sentence progresses. This technique can really call attention to itself and make a sentence anything but elegant.

But elegant variation isn’t just annoying; it makes your writing less clear. When I come across “mother of four,” it takes me an extra fraction of a second to think back to “Jane Smith” and connect the two. In most contexts, readers make the connection without any trouble, but sometimes they will think you used two different words because you are talking about two different things—as I did when I read the BBC article quoted above—and that can cause serious confusion.

Other ways to avoid repetition

Bryan Garner suggests that the rule of thumb is to avoid repeating a word in the same sentence if it can be done felicitously. What’s a felicitous fix? I suggest:
  • Use a pronoun: “Jane Smith is an avid cyclist. She also enjoys . . .”
  • Leave the word out: “Jane Smith is an avid cyclist and also enjoys . . .”
  • “A fire broke out in Oak Hills last night.” Instead of “Three people were killed in the blaze,” consider: “Three people were killed.”
If there’s no good way to remove the repetition, leave it in. It’s probably better to repeat the occasional word than to bend your sentences out of shape with clichés or confusing changes of name.

More about elegant variation

June 2, 2011

Book News Online

The Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival puts out a nice email newsletter called Book News Online. There’s news about Canadian and international books and writers, and a schedule of local events I might otherwise never hear about. Read it online or subscribe to the email version.

June 1, 2011

Google searches as a quick and dirty way to answer style questions

Google’s full-text search provides not only a highly efficient way to find information, it’s also a very easy way to search through a giant corpus of writing. Some people use Google as a spell-checker: just try both spellings of the word and let the number of results decide. The problem with this approach is that you don’t always want to use the spelling or usage that appears most often — after all, the web is not known for being the home of the most careful and polished writing. You’ll get more useful results by narrowing your search to a specific part of the web.

Limit your search to one specific domain

Certain magazines, like the New York Times and the Economist are often used as style standards. When I run into an expression that I’m not sure is standard, or a capitalization or hyphenation question that doesn’t quite match any rules in the style I’m using, I’ll often search the New York Times or Economist websites to see how they handle it.

To get results from a specific site, use “site:/” and then the name of the domain, followed by a space and then your search term. For example:

site:/nytimes.com "raise his game"
If you forget this syntax (“site:/”), you can get the same search by clicking on “advanced search” from the main Google site, and then entering the site under “Search within a site or domain.”

How to use Google Scholar to help you with scientific and academic writing and editing

Google Scholar is extremely useful for editing scientific and academic documents because you can limit your search not only within the academic literature, but within a particular area like biology, chemistry, physics, or medicine.

Let’s say you’re editing a chemistry paper and you come across an unfamiliar use of the term “headspace.” If you just do a regular Google search for headspace, you’ll get references to hair salons and mental health groups. Not helpful.

Instead, try Google Scholar:

  • Go to the Advanced Scholar Search
  • Select “Search only articles in the following subject areas:”
  • Select “Chemistry and Materials Science”
  • Type in “headspace” and click “Search Scholar”
  • VoilĂ , relevant results

If you’re writing, you can check your phrasing this way. Maybe it’s late at night, you’re getting tired, and you’re not sure whether to say that the samples were “relatively dilute” or “relatively diluted.” If you plug each phrase into Google Scholar (put quotation marks around them so that you’re searching for that exact phrase, not the two words separately), you’ll see that “relatively dilute” gets 6,840 hits, whereas “relatively diluted” only gets 488. That gives you a quick answer to go on with.

May 18, 2011

Upcoming events: EAC conference registration closes Friday!

The Editors’ Association of Canada’s annual conference is coming up on May 27–29 at the Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver. The conference theme this year is Editing in the Age of e-Everything, and there will be over 40 presenters giving talks, putting on workshops, panel discussions, etc. The Indexing Society of Canada and the Professional Editors Association of Vancouver Island will also be holding sessions.

Last day for registration is this Friday! You can register for one, two, or three days (three-day option includes the Friday Indexing Society sessions) of conference attendance, or individually for the pre-conference workshops.
Conference home
Sessions and speakers

May 16, 2011

A quick fix for the all-caps eyesore

Caps lock: not necessary all the time
Source: an unknown internet hero
If some keyboarder of the old, old school sends you a message in all caps that you have to read even though the SHOUTING is giving you a headache, there’s a quick fix. Copy and paste the text into a Word document and use the “change case” feature to convert it to upper and lower case. Select all the text (Command-A on a Mac), go to Format -> Change Case . . .  and choose Sentence case. The capitalization won’t be perfect, but trust me, it will be a huge improvement. OpenOffice Writer also has a Change Case feature in the Format menu, but unfortunately you have to settle for all lowercase.

May 15, 2011

Subtleties of Scientific Style by Matthew Stevens

One of the fundamental features of science is the furtherance of knowledge. Poor writing is an impediment to this. A good illustration of this point is a paper by Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty published in 1944 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, which established that DNA was the substance that transmitted genetic information. Although it paved the way for James Watson and Francis Crick’s milestone paper in 1953 in Nature (171: 737–738) establishing the structure of DNA, it was not widely read or appreciated. Author Randy Moore has argued that the way it was written was the main reason for this (Journal of College Science Teaching 1994 November: 114–121). In comparison with Watson and Crick’s paper, it is (as Moore wrote) hesitant, extremely dense, verbose, highly detailed, abstract, impersonal and dull. We’ve all heard of Watson and Crick. Who has heard of Avery, MacLeod and McCarty?
—Matthew Stevens, Subtleties of Scientific Style, p. 46

I always took it for granted that academic papers had to be hard to read. (The reason usually cited is that the authors have to pack an enormous amount of information into the shortest space possible.) The introduction could conceivably be a work of art, but the methods and materials section with its centrifuging at 20,000 g and resuspending, that pretty much has to be a slog, right? Well, after seeing Stevens’s examples of how text can be improved by using the appropriate voice, putting steps in logical order, disentangling parallelism and rearranging sentences (to put subject and verb at the front of a long sentence, for example), I have new hope.

Subtleties of Scientific Style is a fairly short (85 pages), very readable book that doesn’t try to be a comprehensive style guide. Instead, Stevens assumes that his readers know the basics of editing, and he focuses on specific considerations for science writing. He starts with a discussion of substantive editing, and describes how to do a truly thorough editing job (involving seven passes). He then goes on to address various common errors in usage and content, and describes ways to improve expression and visual presentation. Finally, the appendices contain useful notes on Unicode and special characters.

If you’ve done any academic editing, you’re sure to recognize a lot of the problems he discusses: one of my favourites is the discussion of the word “respectively.” I too have had my brain twisted by authors who connected two lists of different length with “respectively.” (“Plants A and B were yellow and green, respectively”: OK. “Plants A, B, and C were yellow and green, respectively”: not OK.) I’ll be going back to this book again to refresh my memory and pick up new points.

Where to get it

The publisher is ScienceScape Editing, Thornleigh, Australia, but their website doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The book is available for download in PDF, and I believe it is the author’s intention to make the electronic copy available for free.

Updated versions of some links mentioned in the book

Some related links

Reviewed from the free PDF.

Screenwriters can teach you a lot about fiction editing

I’m not a big movie watcher. When people ask me “Have you seen—,” the answer is usually “no.” Why then the interest in screenwriting? Because I am fascinated by stories, and good screenwriters know how to tell a story. (They also write a pretty good how-to book.) Here are some books on the subject, as well as an introductory note or two on writing screenplays. Thanks to Melva McLean for information about screenplay structure, scriptwriting software, where to find scripts online, and the screenwriting gurus (but any errors are mine!).

The screenplay format

Don’t mess with the format: twelve-point Courier on standard letter-sized paper. Character names and scene headings are in all caps, dialogue and action in upper and lower case.

Screenplay style guide

The Hollywood Standard

Screenplay writing software

Celtx is free and pretty kick-ass. It handles the formatting for you and saves you a lot of typing. A “movie” project will store the script, the novel, and the schedule, and integrates the screenplay with the schedule so that you can see which locations and characters are needed on which days. Best of all, there are a number of sample projects loaded, including the Wonderful Wizard of Oz screenplay and novel. Besides the movie project, there are a number of other project types, including novel and comic book.

I hear Final Draft is good too. Demo version available.

Sample scripts

Unlike novels, which tend to be guarded by their copyright holder, screenplays are often made available online. Fill your boots. I just hope you like monospaced fonts.
Simply Scripts
Script-O-Rama

How to structure a screenplay

This is where the gold is. How long should a screenplay be? What makes a satisfying story arc? Where does the climax go? How soon should the inciting incident come? Following the right structure in developing your story is essential to creating a satisfying experience for the viewer.

Of the authors I list below, Blake Snyder is the one who provides the most step-by-step formula for putting together a movie. Just to give you an idea, here’s a rough outline of a script, mostly based on Snyder’s beat sheet:

  • Length: about 90–120 pages. The rule of thumb is that one page of script comes out to about a minute of screen time.
  • Three acts: Act 1 introduces the situation; Act 2 complicates the situation; Act 3 resolves the situation.
  • Inciting incident (page 12 in a 110-page script): If it’s a murder mystery, a corpse has to be found. If it’s a love story, the lovers have to meet. In a hero’s journey story, the hero is presented with the call to action.
  • The transition into Act 2: The hero accepts the call, or something else happens to turn the plot in a new direction.
  • Fun and games, first half of Act 2: Action that results from the premise of the story. Most of the stuff that’s in the trailer comes from this part of the movie.
  • Second half of Act 2: Complications build until the crisis.
  • Transition into Act 3: Hero confronts his demons and turns the situation around using tools and lessons from earlier in the story.
  • Act 3: Climax and resolution.
See “Three Acts or What?” for a nice comparison of the Syd Field, Blake Snyder, and hero’s journey story structures.

Books about screenwriting

  • Save the Cat by Blake SnyderSave the Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need—Blake Snyder. He has a nice list of genres and screenwriting devices (like the title “save the cat” trick), always with examples, and then discusses in detail his plan on how to set up the three-act structure that he believes is essential to delivering a satisfying experience. I certainly notice the structure he describes jumping out at me in movies like Avatar and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A very fun book.
  • Story by Robert McKeeStory: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of ScreenwritingRobert McKee. Excellent book. McKee is another script guru who consults and runs workshops. He’s also got a good list of screenwriting resources on his website.
  • The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting—Syd Field. Interesting, not as fun as Blake Snyder’s book, but it covers some different points, including more on the nuts and bolts of selling scripts.
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade by William GoldmanAdventures in the Screen Trade—William Goldman. Very entertaining. An analysis of the workings of the movie industry, from what makes a star (it’s someone who will bring people in to see the movie open) to the role of producers (he hasn’t the foggiest, although he knows they’re essential). There’s also plenty of concrete advice on screenwriting: how to write beginnings, how to write endings, how to protect the star—and how to protect your soul.
  • The Great Movies—Roger Ebert. He goes through about 100 movies that he thinks are important and talks about why they’re good and what they mean to him.

April 11, 2011

William Gibson essay to appear in the upcoming Quakebook project

Quakebook 2:46
William Gibson has contributed an essay to 2:46 Aftershock: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, an e-book of collected essays that will be released soon. All proceeds will benefit Red Cross Japan. See the Quakebook Blog or search Twitter for #quakebook for more information about the project.

Article about Gibson and Quakebook in the Globe and Mail.

Update April 12: the book is available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon now. If you don’t have a Kindle, as I don’t, you can download free Kindle reader software for your computer.

March 14, 2011

Science writing and editing: How to write scientific names

The Latin scientific name of a species, be it plant, animal, bacterium, fungus, etc., is a two-part name consisting of the genus name first (by the way: one genus, two genera) and the species name second. For example, the domestic cat is known as Felis catus. Although the genus name can be used on its own (there are several other species in genus Felis, for instance the wildcat, Felis silvestris), the species name never appears on its own.

The basic rule for writing a scientific name

  1. Use both genus and species name: Felis catus.
  2. Italicize the whole name.
  3. Capitalize only the genus name. (In the past you would capitalize the species designation if it was derived from a proper name, e.g., Megalonyx Jeffersonii, but now the species designation is always lowercased: Megalonyx jeffersonii.)

Rules for abbreviating the genus name

After the first use, the genus name can be abbreviated to just its initial: F. catus.
  1. When a section of the text might be displayed on its own, you might want to spell out the name in full the first time it appears there. For instance, some academic journals require that you write out the genus in full the first time it is used in the abstract, and in all tables and table captions.
  2. When you introduce the name of another species in the same genus, you can use the abbreviated genus name for the new species:1 The domestic cat is species Felis catus. Both F. catus and its wild relative, F. silvestris . . .
  3. If you are discussing two species that belong to different genera that nevertheless start with the same letter, say, Leopardus pardalis, the ocelot, and the Canada lynx, Lynx canadensis, it is better not to abbreviate their genus names.
  4. Abbreviations of more than one letter: I’ve seen a few instances of two-letter abbreviations of genus names, for instance Au. afarensis and Ar. ramidus for Australopithecus afarensis and Ardipithecus ramidus, and I’ve seen discussion of two- or three-letter genus abbreviations for some taxonomic groups. Butcher’s Copy-editing2 says they are to be avoided, but they’re permissible to avoid ambiguity.3 I recommend checking with your target publication to see whether they allow this style.
  5. Sometimes the full genus name isn’t spelled out on first use. Some organisms, such as the famous study organisms E. coli and C. elegans, are so well known that it’s common in informal discussion to just use the abbreviated version of the name.

Names of taxonomic levels above the genus level

The names of higher taxonomic levels (family, order, class, phylum or division, and kingdom) should be capitalized but not italicized (see Chicago 8.125 and Butcher’s 13.5.1). Common names derived from taxon names, for instance “felines” for members of the family Felidae, are not capitalized. A common name that is derived from a genus name, such as gorilla, is not capitalized either (see Chicago 8.126).

Names of taxonomic levels below the species level

Below the level of species there are subspecies and varieties.
  1. The subspecies name is italicized.
  2. In zoology, the subspecies is not indicated by any label; it just follows the species name: the European wildcat is Felis silvestris silvestris. If the subspecies name is the same as the species name, it can be abbreviated: Felis s. silvestris.
  3. In botany, the subspecies is indicated by “subsp.” or “ssp.” (Butcher’s recommends subsp.4): Juncus effusus subsp. solutus. The “subsp.” label is not italicized.
  4. The name of a variety is italicized, but the “var.” label is not: The insecticide BTK is produced by Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki.

Unknown or unspecified species

When referring to an unidentified species, use the abbreviation “sp.”: The meadow contained several sedge plants (Carex sp.). The plural form is “spp.”: The forest floor contained several species of pixie cup lichen (Cladonia spp.). The “sp.” and “spp.” labels are not italicized.

The species author and the sp. nov. tag for introducing new species in the literature

When a species is being formally introduced in a scientific paper the name of the author (the person who first described the species in academic literature) is usually given.
  1. The author name is not italicized: The straightleaf rush is Juncus orthophyllus Coville.
  2. The name may be abbreviated. Carolus Linnaeus, a biologist who is such a hero his name was Latinized, gets the abbreviation “L.”: The European meadow rush is Juncus inflexus L.
  3. If the author name is in parentheses, that indicates that the species was originally assigned to a different genus.
  4. The abbreviation “sp. nov.” indicates that a species is being introduced in the literature for the first time. Do not italicize “sp. nov.”: “Pyrococcus furiosus sp. nov. represents a novel genus of marine heterotrophic archaebacteria growing optimally at 100°C

References

Chicago Manual of Style

More help with writing scientific papers

For some more help with formatting and style in scientific writing, see “Making your science papers look good.”

Notes

1 Butcher’s Copy-editing 4th Edition, p. 328
2 Judith Butcher, Caroline Drake, and Maureen Leach, Butcher’s Copy-editing, 4th Edition. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780521847131
3 Butcher’s Copy-editing 4th Edition, p. 328
4 Butcher’s Copy-editing 4th Edition, p. 329

March 13, 2011

“Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles”

Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles” is a short document written in 1937 by Wolcott Gibbs, fiction editor at the New Yorker as an internal style guide. Very funny in a deadpan way.
2. Word “said” is O.K. Efforts to avoid repetition by inserting “grunted,” “snorted,” etc., are waste motion and offend the pure in heart.

March 7, 2011

Excessive search engine optimization

I just ran across a great example of what can happen when the quest for search engine optimization gets out of hand in “30 Spooky Freelancing Practices.”

First of all, the whole “spooky” and “scary” angle was obviously chosen because the author was told that around October 29, when this article went online, those are some of the most frequently used search terms. Never mind whether any of the people who are searching for scary, spooky things are going to be interested in an article about freelancing.

Once you’ve chosen some hot keywords that you think people will be searching for, you include them in your article as often as possible. It’s here that the author of this particular article may have gone overboard a little. She writes, “A chill always goes up the back of my spine whenever I read about a freelancer engaging in any of these bad freelancing practices because I know that these practices can really harm a freelancing business” (emphasis mine). In a 36-word sentence, variations of “freelance” (freelancer, freelancing) appear three times, “practices” appears twice, and as a bonus, the juicy keyword phrases “bad freelancing practices” and “freelancing business” are included. This sentence may be a great search optimizer, but it’s repetitive; my fingers itch to remove “bad freelancing” from “bad freelancing practices,” substitute “they” for “these practices,” and “the business” for “a freelancing business.”

Does it work? I don’t know whether writing like this will bring a million hits to your site, and how many people will stay after they notice how much you’ve slanted your writing to catch hits. I do notice, however, that I’ve managed to incorporate some great keywords into my blog today. I’ll let you know if I get a million hits.

February 25, 2011

Usage: On discussing women politely

The following guidelines have always been my preference, but since the AP Style Guide backs me up, I’m going to feel free to recommend these as general rules (there’s nothing more satisfying than finding that a long-standing pet peeve is codified in a style guide).

Use “woman” as a noun, and “female” as an adjective. Don’t use “lady” unless you’d use “gentleman” for a man in the same context. (“This drug may cause beard growth in women.” “She will be the first female president.” “A lady never tells.”)

Referring to someone as “a female something” is fine, but referring to someone just as a “female” is depersonalizing. In everyday speech it tends to have a derogatory sound: “He arrived with some female or other in tow.” In medical writing it’s not rude, but it has a jargony sound: “Our study showed that 38% of females experienced ...” In some contexts, perhaps if you’re referring to women of all ages, you might choose to use “females” instead of writing something like “female infants, girls, and women,” but wherever possible, I would stick to “women,” “girls,” etc.

I can’t say that using “woman” as an adjective is wrong, because I see respectable writers doing it all the time. But I find it really unaesthetic: “Stress fractures are more common in women runners” (I recommend “female runners”). I think people are aware of the negative connotations of using “female” as a noun, and overcorrect by not using the word at all. Don’t worry, it’s OK to say that someone is female.

“Lady” for “woman” is . . . unnecessary? patronizing? Perhaps the AP Style Guide says it best: “Lady may be used when it is a courtesy title or when a specific reference to fine manners is appropriate without patronizing overtones.”

Not as jarring to my ear, but also worth mentioning is another guideline from AP Style: use “girl” only up until the 18th birthday. For adults, use “woman” or “young woman.”

February 20, 2011

Making your science papers look good

The more polished your paper is when it goes to reviewers and committees, the more likely it is to be read favourably. Getting the small things right will inspire confidence that you got the big things right too, but a lack of consistency and attention to detail in layout, spelling, and punctuation will make the reader wonder what else you didn’t pay attention to. Here are some basic points that I often find myself correcting when editing papers.

Units

Put a space between the number and the unit (5 km, 200 g). The exceptions are degrees of temperature or latitude (N 49°15′48.14″, W 123°9′43.34″, 5°C, 5°F), percent signs (5%), and prime signs (6′2″). Some styles allow a space before the degree symbol in temperatures (5 °C). (The symbols for minutes and seconds in latitude and longitude or feet and inches are the prime and double prime. See “Special characters” below.)

Capitalization: the abbreviation for litre (L) and millilitre (mL) may use a capital L to distinguish it from a 1 (one).

When two quantities go together, repeat the symbol only if there is no space between the number and symbol (CMOS 9.17): 3%–5%, 4–5 km, 6″ × 9″, and 39°C–40°C.

Numbers

You’re likely to have a lot of numbers in your text. Here are a few guidelines.
  • Use en dashes instead of hyphens in ranges of numbers (8–10). The en dash is slightly longer than a hyphen.
  • When writing in English, use a period (not a comma) for the decimal point, and commas (not periods) to separate groups of three digits. Some styles use spaces to separate groups of three digits. It is also permissible to omit the comma in a four-digit number. Be consistent.
  • Numerals versus spelled-out numbers. In the absence of other instructions, a safe policy is:
    • Spell out single-digit numbers and use numerals for all others: “all three study areas,” “in 2.3% of the samples.”
    • If a number is given with a unit, use the numeral even if it’s a single-digit number: “each test tube contained 2 mL of solution” (not “two mL”).
    • If you start a sentence with a number, it should be spelled out: “Twenty-seven of the volcanoes ...” But if the number takes a unit (“Two mL of solution was put in each test tube”), then I recommend you rewrite the sentence.

Spacing with mathematical symbols

  • There should be no space between the number and sign: “−1°C,” “1000× magnification.”
  • There should be spaces around the operator in a binary operator “p < 0.005.”

Some codes for special characters

  • En dash: Unicode U+2013, HTML &ndash;, option-hyphen on a Mac
  • Degree symbol: Unicode U+00B0, HTML &deg;
  • Primes and double primes for latitude and longitude: Unicode U+2032 and U+2033, HTML &prime; and &Prime;
  • Minus sign: Unicode U+2212, HTML &minus;
  • Multiplication sign: Unicode U+00D7, HTML &times;
  • How to write typographers’ quotes (smart quotes) in HTML

Scientific names of organisms

See writing scientific names of organisms.

Spacing between sentences

Unless you are writing for a journal that specifies otherwise, use only one space after a period or colon. It will save your publisher from having to remove the extra spaces, and they’ll like you better if you don’t make them do that. If you’re writing for the web or working on a thesis, leave the extra spaces out; they’ll just look awkward and unprofessional.

Text alignment

I suggest aligning your text on the left instead of justifying it. Publishers usually request left alignment in manuscript submissions, and the consistent spacing between words makes it easier to read and edit.

Further references

February 13, 2011

Vancouver events: Editing workshops with the EAC

Registration is open for two workshops put on by the BC Branch of the Editors’ Association of Canada this spring.

Grammar fundamentals

Taught by Frances Peck
Saturday, March 12: 9:30 to 4:00

Always Pity the Poor Reader: Copy Editing 101

Taught by Rob Dykstra
Saturday, May 14: 10 to 4

Both workshops will be at SFU Harbour Centre. See the EAC-BC seminars page for more information and online registration. Cost of the seminar ranges from $100 (early registration/member) to $180 (late registration/non-member).

February 12, 2011

Volunteer appreciation

Glass heart ornament I received this lovely token of appreciation from CNIS (Canadian Network for International Surgery) at their volunteer night last week (thank you for supporting CNIS, Robert Held). CNIS sends volunteer surgeons and obstetricians from Canada to help teach surgical skills in Africa. I’ve been helping format and edit some of the course manuals that CNIS has developed. It was great fun to meet some of the other volunteers at the event and hear about what they do. One of the more creative teaching techniques that CNIS has come up with is providing low-cost medical simulators in the form of hand-sewn models, and the sewing team that puts together these cloth uteruses was given a special appreciation award.

February 5, 2011

Garner’s Modern American Usage

Garner's Modern American Usage
My favourite usage guide is Bryan A. Garner’s book Garner’s Modern American Usage. It’s an impressive collection of essay entries on the usage of both individual words and more general categories, such as grammar and punctuation.

His philosophy is a combination of prescriptivism and descriptivism: on the one hand he describes certain usages as “inferior,” on the other hand he justifies that judgement by placing usages in the context of his language-change index. Usage changes over time (“terrific,” after all, used to mean “causing terror”) but that doesn’t mean that certain changes aren’t unnecessary (“priorize” for “prioritize”) or illogical (“could care less” for “couldn’t care less”). The language-change index goes from Stage 1: “rejected”, through Stages 2 through 4 (“widely shunned”, “widespread but . . .”, and “ubiquitous but . . .”) and finally arrives at Stage 5: “fully accepted.” To illustrate the language-change spectrum still further, he uses analogies from various other fields: golf (triple-bogey, double-bogey, etc.), legal infractions (felony, misdemeanor, ticket, warning), and—my favourite—etiquette, which compares a Stage 1 infraction to “audible farting.”

I was thinking that the language-change index could be analogized in fashion terms. Here’s a shot at it:

  • Stage 1: B.O.; wardrobe failure; fly undone
  • Stage 2: thong showing (“whale tail”); fluorescent-pink Crocs
  • Stage 3: Uggs; socks and sandals
  • Stage 4: wearing white after Labour Day; shoes don’t match handbag
  • Stage 5: ready for the Oscars; royalty at a garden party
Some further reading:
  • How I first heard about this book: David Foster Wallace, whom I like very much, wrote “Tense Present,” a very entertaining review of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, the previous edition of Garner’s.
  • Interview with Bryan Garner in Vice Magazine: “I’m beyond the state of pet peeves. There are 3,000 things that seriously bother me . . .”
  • Go to LawProse.org to sign up for Bryan Garner’s usage tip of the day, as well as for videos and other material.
  • Find Bryan Garner’s Twitter feed at @BryanAGarner

Reviewed from my own copy of the book.