The Most Common Errors Copyeditors See

Aside from clichéd metaphors, boring prose, inexact word choice, and other problems of language, copyeditors also look out for errors of grammar, punctuation, and style—all of which appear much more frequently than you’d expect. Here are just some of the most common mistakes we see, even in “final” drafts:


·      Dangling participles. If you say “sitting over here, the view is beautiful,” your readers are going to be more amazed by the view’s ability to sit than by its beauty.


·      Comma splices. Occasionally it’s appropriate to use a comma splice to achieve a colloquial voice, but otherwise, break out your periods, semicolons, em dashes, and parentheses.


·      Incorrect semicolons. We often see semicolons used as colons, or where a comma would suffice.


·      Over-enthusiastic ellipses. Use just three dots in an ellipsis…not four, or five, or seven.


·      Inconsistent dashes. We like the Chicago Manual of Style––which uses em dashes to set off a break in a sentence—but some style guides do allow an en dash – set off with spaces – in its place. Just don’t use both, and don’t confuse either with a hyphen.


·      Missing or poorly placed hyphens. The rules of hyphenation are obnoxiously complex, but generally speaking, hyphenate your compound adjectives before a noun, and not after.


·      Punctuation outside of quotes. Your commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks. It’s a different story if you’re using a question mark, an exclamation point, or a semicolon that doesn’t belong to the quoted text.


·      Improperly capitalized titles of offices. The President did not come to town. The president came to town, by which I mean President Kennedy.


·      Improperly presented titles of works. Titles of articles, chapters, stories, and songs are set off in quotation marks. Titles of books, magazines, movies, and works of art are italicized.


It can take a while to train your eye to recognize these common mistakes, but look out for them in your own work and you’ll find you’re communicating your meaning much more effectively to your readers (and saving your editor enough trouble that he’ll actually enjoy the story).

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