Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition

The 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style is coming out in August—I'm going to have to upgrade from my trusty, well-loved copy of the 14th edition (which I've installed on many desks since I bought it in 1998, when I began working on Macworld magazine's copy desk).

I didn't bother with the 15th because there wasn't a whole lot new in it, really (at least, not much that was applicable to the work I did). When it was released, I was Macworld's managing editor, and after reading the 15th I decided that we, as a magazine, would skip it.

(I did make a few necessary notes in my 14th edition.)

I refer to Chicago less often than I once did. In part that's because I've memorized even the sections that I once referred to at least weekly (the hyphenation table and the "Titles of Works" section, for instance), if only for gentle reassurance.

Also, Yahoo! has its own style guide and prefers AP rules, aside from favoring serial commas (which I favor, too).

It looks as though the 16th edition has some substantial changes in store for us, though! I know this because I've been following University of Chicago Press senior manuscript editor Carol Saller's excellent blog, The Subversive Copy Editor.

She has been posting "sneak peeks" from the 16th edition, and I've just employed one of them: titles of blogs will now be set in italics, like titles of books and magazines; titles of blog entries will be set in quotation marks (like magazine articles).

This makes good sense.

Also, in titles, the second term in a hyphenated compound no longer needs to be lowercased; it's capped (For instance, "Medium-Size" and "Twenty-First").

Hoorah! I think this looks a lot nicer.

Other sneakily peeked-at changes make less sense to me:

Possessives of classical proper names ending in an eez sound add apostrophe-s (Xerxes’s armies). The rule used to be that these names took only an apostrophe, like the names Jesus and Moses. This rule made sense to me because it aligns with how we pronounce terms like "Euripides' plays" or "Ramses' tomb." The new rule seems out of step with language trends: more and more publications (even those that are "sort of" Chicago publications) don't add the apostrophe-s to any words that end in the letter s (so they'd write "Charles' sisters" instead of [the Chicago-approved] "Charles's sisters"). I prefer the apostrophe-s in those cases (again, in part for reasons of pronunciation), but I think it's going to become rarer and rarer.

Also, how can you defend "Moses' children" when you suggest "Ramses's wives"?


Then there's this:

When a title ends in a question mark, a comma should also appear if the grammar calls for one: Three stories she never mentioned were “Are you a Doctor?,” “The Library of Babel,” and “Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

This was something Chicago didn't really address before (I believe). But the idea sort of comes up in the section on bibliographies (15.221): "A question mark or exclamation point coming at the end of a title or subtitle of a journal article supersedes the usual punctuation."

And that makes more sense to me. It's not clear now how we're going to treat titles that end with periods, or whether a period should also "appear if the grammar calls for one" (or whether a question mark should appear if the grammar calls for one—for instance, "Have you seen the film Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf??"). If not, why not? And how do we explain the rules?

Much remains to be seen.

I'm looking forward to reviewing the new Chicago next week. But when it comes to these punctuation pileups, I will continue to follow the advice of Words into Type: ". . . try to avoid such situations by rewording."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A New HotJobs Article

I try to write one myself every couple of weeks or so (if I see a niche to fill). Here's the latest--it's got two things that will (I hope) make it appealing to the home-page team (and the public): it's got a scary hook, and it's interactive (that is, it's sort of a quiz).

Read "Is Your Career in Danger? Take the Test."

The Difference between 'Thus' and 'Therefore'

It's just me. Most writers and editors seem to accept the words as having one overlapping meaning: "consequently" or "for this reason" (with many seeming to prefer thus in most cases, likely because it's shorter). But I enforce a distinction, which I adopted from a very talented copy chief I once worked under:

Thus means "in this way"; therefore means "for this reason."

Thus was I educated when I was a young copy editor; therefore, I am sometimes accused of being persnickety.

Most dictionaries support these as primary definitions but acknowledge the overlap. I like keeping thus out of therefore's territory; distinctions like this allow writing to be more precise (in my opinion).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

This sentence contains one of the most common errors I see: a nonparallel series.

Earning a degree, certificate, or even just taking a few classes to acquire new skills can get you back in the game.

When you have a series like the compound subject of this sentence, each item in the series needs to be the same and follow logically from the same point in the sentence. In this sentence, the items are wildly different:
  • a degree (article, noun—follows from Earning)
  • certificate (noun—follows from a)
  • even just taking a few classes ... (noun phrase built around a gerund—follows from the beginning of the sentence)
This failure of parallelism makes the sentence difficult to read.

There are several ways you could fix the sentence. For instance, you could make the series parallel:

Earning a degree, earning a certificate, or even just taking a few classes to acquire new skills can get you back in the game.

Or you could do what I did—turn the third item (which is so different) into a complementary element (and thereby avoid a lot of repetition):

Earning a degree or a certificate, or even just taking a few classes to acquire new skills, can get you back in the game.

An interesting note on this parallelism rule: Some sticklers feel that it should apply to articles. For instance, they would not allow "A dog and aardvark danced awkwardly on the lawn"—because aardvark can't follow from A. It needs the article an, so those sticklers (and I am one of them) prefer "A dog and an aardvark danced awkwardly on the lawn."

I prefer to repeat the article in every case.

Read "4 Signs You're Ready for a Career Change."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

This post's subtitle is "Unsaid and Understood."

Here's the sentence as it arrived in the manuscript:

It’s no secret we should try to impress the people at the reception desk, who are often asked by the hiring manager for opinions about the people who come into the office.

This article came in quite a bit over its word limit. So I was looking for things to cut. Phrases like "it's no secret," "everyone knows," and "it's widely known" are likely candidates, as are adverbs like obviously and clearly.

These terms should cause alarm bells to go off in an editor's head: Why are we stating the obvious? Worse, why are we telling readers that we're stating the obvious? In many cases, a sentence that begins with the phrase, "It's widely known that" can be cut altogether.

Needless phrases like these get in the way of clear writing.

(Then there's the passive relative clause: again, we're using too many words.)

In this case, I don't think everyone knows that it's important to make a good impression on the receptionist at a job interview. I think letting them know is worth a sentence. And here it is:

Hiring managers often ask receptionists for their take on people who come to the office for interviews.

Read "Body Language Can Make or Break a Job Interview."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who Will Replace Michael Scott?

I like "The Office." And I should say that I still like it--I think it's stayed consistently funny in the years it has been on, and I think it's relevant to anyone who works in an office. I've been mostly lucky in where I've ended up working in my career, but I still do feel cringing pangs of recognition when watching the show.

Steve Carrel has been amazing, but I think the show can still succeed when he steps down at the end of the next season. There has been a lot of speculation about who might replace him, but one name I haven't seen was the name that came almost immediately to my mind:

Lisa Kudrow!

I think she's an amazing comic actor--and she's great at making a sort of un-self-aware nincompoop of a character nonetheless sort of lovable (see Valerie Cherish in "The Comeback"--a seriously underrated series, in my opinion). She also does "ignorant but pompous" very, very well.... And some fresh blood might be what the series needs.

I hope they're considering her. Do I need to start a Facebook page?

I Wear My Sunglasses at Work

We've published numerous articles about how to dress at work--and although sunglasses haven't specifically been mentioned, I'm pretty sure they are usually deemed inappropriate ... even at a company like Yahoo! HotJobs, which has a fairly casual standard of dress (I wear jeans to work unless I know I have a meeting with someone from another company--or unless I have something dressy to do after work).

But what if, like me, you have a broken blood vessel in your eye (harmless--just something that happens occasionally due to overexertion--but nonetheless disgusting to look at in a "28 Days Later" sort of way)? Should I cover up with sunglasses, or should I risk turning stomachs with my bright-red eye?

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotations from one of my favorite etiquette books, Eleanor Roosevelt's "Commonsense Etiquette" (emphasis mine): "If ever following a rule of etiquette would be unkind, forget the rule and just be kind instead. That's good manners."

So I'm leaving the sunglasses on. It seems the kinder thing to do.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

Why did this sentence seem incorrect to me?

In some traditional offices, even shoes without socks are a major no-no.

I don't object to the advice--but I found the plural verb slightly strange. I think because we aren't really talking about multiple, countable shoes. What we're rally talking about is the act of wearing shoes without socks.

I guess I was hearing an echo of the rule that tells us to use a singular verb with periods of time (or amounts of money)--for instance, "Five years is a long time to wait." In cases like that, we aren't really talking about distinct countable items; we're talking about a singular block.

When I read something that makes me stop and think, "Wait--is this wrong?" I like to smooth it out, even if it isn't really wrong. I hope I bring down the number of times readers stop and wonder the same thing.

Here's the new sentence:

In some traditional offices, even wearing shoes without socks is a major no-no.

Read "Summer Attire: What Not to Wear to Work."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

Editorial work is making sure the writer says what she or he means to say.

Here's a story lede that struck me as possibly incorrect when I read it:

Since the recession began in December 2007, more than half of Americans have become unemployed, taken a pay cut, suffered a reduction in hours or had to take a temporary job because they couldn't find a full-time position, according to the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.

I did some quick research, and came up with the correct sentence:

Since the recession began in December 2007, more than half of all American workers have become unemployed, taken a pay cut, suffered a reduction in hours, or had to take a temporary job because they couldn't find a full-time position, according to the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.

What a difference a word makes.

Read "Is Your Employer Taking Advantage of You?"

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

Here's a "before" sentence:

A week or so ago, news stories began to crop up, showcasing new recruiting practices that allow employed job candidates through the gates to a job interview, while leaving the non-working job-seekers standing outside the walls.

Here's the "after" sentence:

A week or so ago, we saw some news stories describing a new recruiting practice: employers inviting only employed job candidates to job interviews, while closing the door to non-working job seekers.

The original was muddled, I thought:

The participle "showcasing new recruiting practices" was poorly placedunnecessarily far form the the noun it modified. Also, showcasing seemed like the wrong word for a practice the writer goes on to disparage.

Saying that "practices ... allow" something seemed incorrect. The employers establish practices, so it's really employers who do the allowing.

I thought the "castle gate" metaphor was a stretch when talking about job interviews, and it didn't appear anywhere else in the column.

And I thought that stressing that word employed made the sentence easier to understand.

I think the "after" sentence is better than the original, but it's not perfect. I'm not happy with making we the subject, but this was a quick fixand I like that better than having news stories as the subject.

The writer of this piece is a precise, clear writer who rarely needs a lot of editing; I hope I made the sentence easier to read.

Read "Sorry We Can't Interview You, You're Unemployed."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Comma-Usage Tip of the Day

When a direct quotation is used as a syntactic part of a sentence, it isn't introduced by a comma.

Today I encountered this sentence:

Edwards says that you should, "Put your cell phone on vibrate or leave it in your own office so it's not a distraction."

In this writer's case, I think the error was just an absentminded slip. But many people have learned that all quotations are introduced by a comma. In fact, only quotations that function as quotations (and are introduced by a word such as say or ask) are. So this sentence should be styled thus:

Edwards says that you should "put your cell phone on vibrate, or leave it in your office, so it's not a distraction."


Edwards advises, "Put your cell phone on vibrate, or leave it in your office, so it's not a distraction."

I also cut the word own (often an unnecessary filler word) from the original and repunctuated the quotation. The original wasn't strictly incorrect (just a more open style of punctuation), but the three short clauses felt messily piled up. I styled "or leave it in your office" as a complementary element—I think it reads better that way.

Read "5 Ways You Bug Your Boss."