Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


January 28, 2011

How to make typographers’ quotes in HTML

What are typographers’ quotes?

You’ve probably noticed two kinds of quotation marks in web pages and printed matter. The quotation mark that you get when you just press the " key on your keyboard is the straight quote, and it looks like ' and ". Typographers’ quotes, also known as a smart quotes or curly quotes, look like ‘ ’ and “ ”. You’ll notice that opening and closing marks are drawn differently, and you may also notice that they look a lot nicer.

Using typographers’ quotes on a web page

Straight quotes are convenient for two reasons: they’re easy to type, obviously, but more importantly, they’re part of the basic ASCII character set, and therefore when you use them in HTML they will be rendered correctly on everyone’s browser, all the time, even if you completely ignore the concept of character encoding in your document.

typographer's quotes example If you use typographers’ quotes without specifying the right character encoding for your HTML file, some of your viewers are going to see question marks, boxes, or other crazy symbols instead of the beautiful curly quotes you intended them to see. That’s bad. That can happen if you do something like type up some text in MS Word with the AutoFormat “Replace straight quotation marks with smart quotation marks” feature turned on, and then you cut and paste that text into an HTML file.

Using HTML codes to make smart quotes

The good news is that you can use HTML codes to render your typographers’ quotes, and browsers will know how to render them, even without setting the document encoding. Although these codes are cumbersome in your text, if you’re saving your HTML documents as text files, this is the way to go.

HTML codes for typographers’ quotes

  • left single quote ‘ ‘
  • right single quote (and apostrophe) ’ ’
  • left double quote “ “
  • right double quote ” ”

Other special characters

But don’t stop there. You can have other special characters: em-dashes (—), en-dashes (–), non-breaking spaces ( ), and accents. Here’s a list of special characters with their HTML codes.

More information about using special characters on the web

January 21, 2011

Nonviolent editing: Delivering editorial criticism with tact

One of the challenges of editing is to point out faults, or possible faults, in a manuscript without crushing the author’s ego or making them want to send you a turd in the mail. Here are some thoughts from some articles I read recently.

Delivering criticism that the author will listen to

Emphasize that you are only speaking for yourself

Andrew Burt, founder and moderator of Critique.org, where writers trade feedback, has a couple of thoughtful articles on how to write a critique so that the author will be most likely to listen to your message. One of his main points is that it’s important to always emphasize that what you’re offering is your opinion and may not be true for everyone. Interestingly, he also recommends against citing authorities. Referring to someone else’s guidelines can seem attractive because it distances you from the bad news (“Hey, don’t blame me, but so-and-so says you should do this differently”), but unless you’re referring to a set of guidelines that the author is required to follow, such as a style guide, Burt is probably right when he says it comes across as another way of saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
See “The Diplomatic Critiquer” and “Critiquing the Wild Writer: It’s Not What You Say, but How You Say It.”

Express the effect, not the cause

In The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, “How to Break the News,” Thomas McCormack says, “Always, when citing a fault, first express the effect, not the cause.” So instead of saying, “I felt the protagonist was a very unlikeable character,” in which case the writer may say “I meant to do that!” you say, “I found myself wanting the protagonist to fail because they were not very likeable.” The writer is less likely to say that was their intent. Looking for the consequence of the supposed fault also helps the editor go beyond enforcing rules for the sake of rules.

Nonviolent communication

Critique.org mentions How to Win Friends and Influence People as a source of ideas on how to communicate effectively, and I think the principles of nonviolent communication also offer some useful techniques for presenting criticism in its most productive form.

Softening the blow when manuscript editing

So far we’ve looked at some ideas about how to offer critiques. What about reducing the shock of getting an edited manuscript back and seeing a red line through every third word?

Remind the writer that your edits are only warnings and suggestions, presented for consideration

Editorial Anonymous, in “How to Respond to Copyeditors’ Marks,” suggests to writers that they try to see the edits as warnings and suggestions that help them make informed decisions about how to produce the effects they’re aiming for, and not as judgmental pronouncements.

If you’re using track changes, show the writer the untracked version first

One of the nice things about editing digital documents is that there are some techniques available for making the writer’s first contact with the edited product a little less upsetting.

As pointed out by the Subversive Copy Editor in her excellent book, you can send the writer one copy of the manuscript with all changes accepted and suggest that they look at that version first. Once the writer sees that the writing is still their own, they’ll be in a better frame of mind to look at the individual edits.

If it’s only a suggestion, write a comment rather than making the change

When editing with track changes, you have practically unlimited room to write queries. Of course it’s overkill to comment every time you change a spelling to conform to the house style, but comments are great for warnings and suggestions. If you’re not absolutely sure that the author is using the wrong word, write a comment. Highlighting the word “mistress” and writing a comment (“To my mind, ‘mistress’ carries connotations of a certain type of relationship . . .”) and finishing with a suggestion (“Would ‘girlfriend’ be a better description of Fred’s relationship with Penny?”) explains your reasoning and gives the writer the choice between graciously accepting your suggestion or saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

January 14, 2011

About typing two spaces after a period

Using the double spaces

This article in Slate can say it for me: we recommend against putting two spaces after a period. From an editor’s perspective, I’ll say that the first thing I do with a new manuscript is to replace all multiple spaces with single spaces.

If you’re deciding what style to use for a document you’re producing, keep in mind that the two-space style is fragile, in that it’s much harder to find and correct extra spaces or missing spaces. With the one-space style, you can get rid of accidental extra spaces with a single search and replace operation. But with the two-space style, you have to use a much more complicated search, since you require two spaces after a sentence-ending period but not after i.e., e.g., ellipsis points, etc.). If you display your text justified instead of left-aligned, it will be really hard to tell whether each word gap contains the right number of spaces.

Removing the double spaces

To process a manuscript that has extra spaces (I always do this on receiving a manuscript and again before delivery because it’s easy for extra spaces to creep in), use search and replace to search for “  ” (just type two spaces into the search box) and replace with “ ” (one space in the replace box). I always choose the “Replace all” option to change them all at once, and then run it again until there are no more multiple spaces found.