Friday, December 12, 2008

PUGS Pointers #6: Help Readers Take You Seriously

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide


In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”). She also explains why it’s important for writers to polish their PUGS.

Each article in this column will address one item in each area. For more PUGS Pointers, or to purchase a copy of the PUGS Pointers book, see Kathy Ide’s Web site.

PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.


WHY POLISH YOUR PUGS?

PUGS errors may cause readers to take you, and your message, less seriously.

On November 15, 2004, Ireland On-Line ran an article on their Web site with this title: “Crowe Turns Hero to Help Snake Bite Boy.” The story was about actor Russell Crowe helping a boy who’d been bitten by a snake. But by spelling snakebite as two words, this sentence implies that Mr. Crowe helped a snake bite a boy! Now, I got a good laugh out of that. But I sure don’t want those kinds of mistakes showing up in my own writing.

And take a look at this statement made in a major newspaper: “Officers found two rifles, a large bag of marijuana packaged for sale, a small scale, a bullet-proof vest and dozens of bullets in a sock.” If readers are giggling about the image of all these items being found in one enormous sock, they won’t be paying as much attention to the point of the article.


PUNCTUATION TIP:

Terms of Respect
Honorific titles are capitalized. But general terms of respect are not.
Examples:
His/Her/Your Majesty
His/Her/Your Excellency
Your Honor
my lord/my lady
sir/ma’am

(See The Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition, #8.35.)


USAGE TIP:

farther/further
farther refers to a measurable distance or space.
“The ball traveled ten yards farther.”

further indicates “greater in quantity, time, and degree” or “moreover.”
“Stanley wanted to discuss the problem further.”


GRAMMAR TIP:

try and vs. try to
Try and should only be used when the subject is trying and doing something else.
“Three times Harry tried and failed to get his manuscript published.”

Always use try to when referring to something the subject tried to accomplish.
“Elizabeth is going to try to write her first draft in a week.”

The only time you could get away with “Elizabeth is going to try and write her first draft in a week” is if you’re writing this in dialogue and the character who’s speaking isn’t concerned with proper grammar.


SPELLING TIP:

by-product (with a hyphen)



AUTHOR BIO:

Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network and the Christian Editor Network. To find out more, please visit Kathy's Web site.





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