Sometimes You Just Cannot Win

There are situations that arise when copy editing (and writing, editing, etc.) in which no matter what decision you make there will be someone there to challenge it.

John McIntyre, on his blog You Don't Say: Language and Usage, talks about the conundrum of choosing to use "data is" or "data are."

I know that there are people on both sides of the fence who will argue till they are blue in the face that their side is right, so I will not get into the middle of this debate.

Singular or plural can be complicated. Is one in five people really talking about one person, or is it talking about many people?

It's one of those things that just needs to be consistent in a publication. No matter which side you choose you will have your critics.


Let the Mêlée Begin

A post on the ACES Discussion Board inquired into the use of accent marks for Hispanic names.

Although the post has some good stories about papers that have tried to incorporated accent marks and other diacritical marks, it seemed to me to skip over some important questions that need to be considered when thinking about whether a publication should use these marks.

At a newspaper, there are a few issues. First, straight from the AP Stylebook:

Do not use any diacritical marks on general wires because they cause garble in many newspaper computers.
The second issue at most newspapers is the time restraints. If the reporters add the proper accent marks to names, that's great. But what about names from other sources. Should you spend your time hunting down Hugo Chávez in all wire copy and making sure it has the acute accent?

As Bill Walsh of The Washington Post says in his book "Lapsing Into a Comma":
If your publication has the time and resources to use accents and other diacritical marks correctly, go for it. But I maintain that it's impossible to use them consistently and correctly in a deadline-intensive medium such as daily newspaper journalism. If you can't use them consistently and correctly, you shouldn't use them at all.
I tend to agree with that point of view. If copy came across on deadline, could you pick which words would need accent or diacritical marks? (And where?):
facade, niche, melee, deja vu, rendezvous, cafe, a la carte, bon appetit, coup d'etat, masseuse, naive, vis-a-vis, aficionado, cliche, El Nino

It would be hard to get all of them right all of the time on deadline. So is it worth it?

As if the question of being able to get accent and diacritical marks right in your publication, there's also the debate about whether they should be used at all. I will discuss that in another post, though.


Proofreading Marks

Just about every day I have people who are looking for proofreading marks end up at this site. I feel bad, so I decided to put together some information to help.

First of all, not all publications use the same proofreading marks, but there are some common ones.

If you are working at a newspaper or other organization that uses AP style, I would recommend buying an AP Stylebook. A full list of proofreading marks is in the back of the book.

Also, there is the The Chicago Manual of Style , which uses many similar proofreading marks (plus more).

Here are some examples of how you might mark a text. Also, some publications mark in the text while others mark in the margins. Whatever way you want to do it, it does make it easier if everyone in your organization is using the same proofreading marks and marking them in the same fashion.

Beating a dead horse

There are times when I see writers (and this means in all of the written material I read, and not just at newspapers) who use a word and then follow it up with a sentence or clause that defines the word.

One example is autopsy.

The definition is to perform a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. I would be rich, however, if I had a nickel for every time I saw this sentence:

An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

The last six words of that sentence are unnecessary, since they merely repeat what was already said in the first four words.

Just a fun point: A post-mortem examination on an animal other than a human is a necropsy.


Last week for the best prices

Time is running out to get the lowest price for the American Copy Editors Society's 2007 national conference. The deadline was extended until Feb. 15 for the lowered prices.

This year's speakers include Doug Fisher and Nicole Stockdale talking about blogging and Bill Walsh. New this year, however, is the approach that ACES is taking. From the conference page:

The online train has been barreling toward us for some time – and now it’s here. Many newsrooms are reorganizing with a focus on the Web. Where do copy editors fit in to all of this?
It's a good question, and I hope many copy editors will be there to discuss it.

You're going where? Thinking of (small) places

The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style and Words into Type, three books that I reference fairly often, all say about the same thing when discussing when to capitalize the names of regions.

AP, which has its listing for regions in the stylebook under the directions and regions heading, says to lowercase names of directions -- north, south, etc. -- but to uppercase words when they designate regions. Words into Type says to "Cap popular appellations for regions and localities." The Chicago Manual of Style allows for even more leniency: "Popular names of places, or epithets, are usually capitalized. ... None should be used in contexts where they will not be readily understood."

A lot of the examples given in the above-stated reference books, as well as in stylebooks for other large publications, refer to names of regions that are large (the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, the West Coast, etc.).

But what about when your publication is a bit smaller than the New York Times?

For small publications, it might make sense to capitalize names of regions that fall within the coverage area.

If you are thinking of doing this, say for the city's downtown (or would it be Downtown?) I would just make sure to make sure that the area has a popular name that is readily understood and the area has somewhat clear boundaries that are readily understood.

If it is clear to your readership that Downtown means a certain section of Jonesville, then go ahead and use it; same goes for other names: Jonesville South, Jonesville West, Jonesville Bay.

Stylebooks paint broad guidelines, and you need to apply them to your circumstance. Just because Downtown Jonesville isn't in the AP Stylebook doesn't mean it's not a legitimate well-known region (at least to your readership) that should be capitalized.