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Tips for Older Writers January 4, 2014

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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While editing the work of several older writers lately, I noticed they used punctuation and formatting styles that are no longer current. I developed the below list of tips to help these writers update their manuscripts. I doubt any editor would reject a work solely on an item on this list, but editors are busy and writers who can save them time and effort hold an advantage. Magazines and paying publishers are looking for manuscripts that are fresh, but certain punctuation and formatting styles date writing.

  • Dashes should be made with two hyphens with no spaces on either side of the hyphens. Most computer programs will convert the two hyphens into a long dash known as an em dash, which is what publishers want.
  • Periods should go inside quotation marks. In the 1970s and before, U.S. students were taught to put the period inside the quotation marks when the whole sentence was a quotation but outside the marks when only the last part of the sentence was a quotation, like so:

“This sentence is a quotation.”

Only the last part of this sentence is “a quotation”.

   England still uses that style, but the United States now uses this style:

“This sentence is a quotation.”

Only the last part of this sentence is “a quotation.”

  • Periods should be followed by one space, not two. People who learned to type on a manual typewriter were instructed to put two spaces after the closing punctuation in a sentence, but with the advent of computers and proportional spacing, two spaces are no longer needed or desired.
  • Computers can divide words at the end of a line when a break is needed, so dividing words by hand isn’t usually needed or desirable.
  • Italics are now used instead of underlines. People used to underline words in titles and definitions to signal to typesetters to put the words in italics. Typewriters didn’t offer italics back then, but computers now do. A few publishers still prefer older formatting styles or no formatting, and they will usually state that in their writing guidelines.
  • Telephone numbers no longer need parentheses around the area code. Parentheses suggest text is optional, but area codes are no longer optional. Telephone numbers should be written with hyphens only:  012-345-6789.
  • Our language has become less formal and capitals are used less. For instance, general job titles like “mayor” don’t need to be capitalized when standing alone, and general references to a state or city don’t require the words “state” or “city” to be capitalized.