Tips for Editing

This is a quick-reference list of tips for frequently forgotten rules and reminders that bear repeating.

Preparing to Proof

    1. In .doc files, there are several “nonprinting” or “invisible” characters that can cause headaches when the file is converted to HTML or another format for publication. The easiest way to purge your file of these is to use Find & Replace All. Replace nonbreaking hyphens (^-) with regular hyphens (-), optional spaces (^s) with real spaces ( ), and manual line breaks (^l) with nothing at all.
    2. Remove all footnotes from the title and subheadings. Footnotes in subheadings should be relocated to an appropriate place in the text (Chicago 14.22). The content of a footnote on the title should be cut and pasted to the bottom of the text above the Notes.


    1. Ensure that emphasis added has no caps or punctuation when it is used at the end of blockquote and that it is surrounded by parens (Editing for Liberty #1).
    2. Each letter or number in an inline list must have both (1) a left parens and (2) a right parens.
    3. Outside of headings and subheadings, words like chapter, part, and section are lowercase, and chapter, part, and section numbers are given in arabic numerals (Chicago 8.178). The Constitution does not usually have an exception to this (see example six in Chicago 9.29), but it often does in constitutionalist organizations like The Future of Freedom Foundation.
    4. Ensure there are no spaces between end-of-sentence punctuation and the references. … blah![1] NOT … blah! [1]
    5. Check that all references and links refer to the correct footnotes and web resources. Generally, avoid linking to forums; embarrassing posts could get added to the thread later on.
    6. Precede all page references in citations with p. or pp.


    1. For internal links, adding semantics to the end of a link can raise your site’s rankings on Google searches. So
      could profitably become
    2. Google Books links have long, cumbersome, unnecessary tails on their URLs, which you can cut off. Delete everything after and including the first ampersand. So
    3. It’s usually best to add links to the first instance of the names of people or institutions that are unfamiliar or that you want to promote. If you don’t link it, readers are likely to wander off to Google to look it up anyway. Internal links within the site are preferable, but Wikipedia or other links are generally acceptable.

Errors in Quotations

    1. Check each quote against the source to ensure that it is accurate. And check that when an author says he’s quoting Milton Friedman, he’s not actually quoting a paraphrase of a blog post of a transcript of a YouTube video of Milton Friedman. And watch out for zombie quotes.
    2. If there is a serious error in the original (or in the quotation and you are unable to check the original) change it with square brackets.
    3. If the error in the original is not serious (wrong style, wrong spelling, wrong punctuation), do not change it so long as the meaning is clear.
    4. However, if the error is obviously a typo, you may silently correct it (Chicago 13.7).

Sticky Points of Grammar and Punctuation

    1. Most indefinite pronouns, like anybody are usually singular when they are the subject of the verb (Chicago 5.64). But you have to use your judgement when deciding if an indefinite pronoun should be plural or singular. Try to maintain consistency throughout a piece.
    2. Which vs. that: Nonrestrictive phrases, which develop ideas that are not essential to the sentence, can be begun with which. Such phrases should be bracketed by commas, em dashes, or parens. Restrictive phrases should be begun with that and not be bracketed by punctuation (Chicago Q&A and Chicago 5.220 “that”).
    3. Make sure that quotation marks are consistently straight or “smart,” within each publication. Go into AutoFormat and set smart quotes on or off.  Then just Find and Replace all quotation marks (single and double) once. That resets them.
    4. Put finishing commas and periods inside quotation marks (both single and double) even when they do not logically belong there (Chicago 6.9). Exclamation points and question marks only go inside the quotation marks if they are part of the original text being quoted.
    5. Make sure each possessive singular noun’s apostrophe is followed by an s, even when the original word ends in s, as in Mises’s. The only exceptions are singular nouns that are plural in form, as in The United States’ (Chicago 7.15).
    6. Use the ellipsis character instead of three periods (… not . . .).
    7. For electronic publications, if an ellipsis comes midsentence, put a space on either side of it. If the ellipsis comes between sentences, there’s no space between the closing punctuation mark of the first sentence and the ellipsis that follows it. his feet had mysteriously carried him right up to … his customary restaurant!… [H]abits dictate how he shall spend the evening. (Chicago 13.51.)
    8. No ellipsis is required at the beginning or end of a quotation, unless you want the reader to pay attention to the incompleteness of the quoted sentence. (Chicago 13.50).
    9. You can change the capitalization of the first letter of a quotation silently, that is, without using square brackets.
    10. A comma on its own cannot separate independent clauses. Use a conjunction or a different punctuation mark. This is not A; it is B. OR This is not A, but it is B. NOT This is not A, it is B.
    11. Use Oxford commas. Put a comma after the penultimate item in a list separated by commas, before the final “and.” I like pennies, ice cream, clowns, and cotton candy (Editing for Liberty#2).
    12. No comma is needed between two verbs having the same subject, because they form the parts of a compound predicate (Editing for Liberty #4).
    13. Proofreaders and copyeditors often wonder, Should I put a comma and an initial capital at the beginning of a question included within another sentence? The comma is always necessary. The capital indicates that the question is in a voice other than the author’s. (Adapted from Chicago 6.52.)
    14. Use the month-day-year format for dates, but try to avoid using month-day-year dates as adjectives.
    15. Two parts of a date that are both numbers or both words must be separated by commas. July 4, 2009, was the moment. BUT July 2009 was the moment. (Chicago 6.45).
    16. A colon should usually be preceded by an independent clause (Chicago 6.59).
    17. When a colon introduces a quotation or more than one sentence, the first letter after it is capitalized. When it introduces a list or only one sentence, it is not (Chicago 6.61).
    18. Use hyphens to connect the words in compound adjectives before nouns (Chicago 7.81).
    19. Use en dashes instead of hyphens in compound adjectives if one of the compound’s elements consists of an open compound or if both elements are hyphenated compounds (Chicago 6.80).
    20. Use an en dash to mean “up to and including” between numbers. No other punctuation mark can do this job. 1918-1919 means throughout both years, 1918/1919 means in either year (Chicago 6.78). Slashes can be used to denote academic years, though.
    21. Use em dashes to bracket an amplifying or explaining phrase in a sentence (Chicago 6.82).
    22. -ly adverbs, when they are first in a compound, cannot be hyphenated. a nicely done turkey. NOT a nicely-done turkey.
    23. Remove hyphens that separate prefixes from the words they modify. neoliberal NOT neo-liberal.
    24. A hypenated noun has to be listed in the dictionary, otherwise it should be broken up into distinct words. This is something you should look for particularly in older essays. William Graham Sumner writes about his fellow-citizen, but it should now be fellow citizen. Laissez-faire, by the way, is a hyphenated compound noun (and adjective), but it does not need to be italicized as a foreign phrase.
    25. Hyphenate open compound nouns only very rarely, when necessary to disambiguate.
    26. Check Chicago 7.85 for a master list of tips on hyphenation.


    1. Chicago spells out written-out numbers for one through one hundred, and numerals for everything else. But you can use words for million and so on.  So it would be
      1 million
      10 million
    2. Numbers that begin a sentence should be spelled out. You can usually avoid spelling out long numbers via a slight rewording. For instance, you could change Nineteen ninety-nine was marked by strife to The year 1999 was marked by strife.
    3. When several numbers describing the same class of items appear nearby one another, if one must be in numerals, all must be in numerals (Chicago 9.7).
    4. Numbers for percentages should always be given in numerals. Use the word percent instead of the symbol % except in tables, charts, and technical texts.
    5. Words like thousand and dozen do not cause hyphenation by forming compound adjectives composed only of numbers; but some numbers, like fifty-seven, have hyphens inherent in them. Fifty-seven dozen eggs. BUT Thousand-year-old temple (Chicago 9.2).
    6. Centuries, like the 19th century, should be written with Arabic numerals. Note that the word century is lowercase.
    7. When showing a date range, you may abbreviate the ending date if it has the same century as the beginning date: 1918-19 (Chicago 9.63).


    1. Try to avoid ending sentences with prepositions. It is not formally wrong, but it is something that readers raise their hackles for.
    2. Contractions and informality are cool if they are used consistently.
    3. Break text for websites up into paragraphs as small as logic will allow (three sentences is usually ideal).

Diction, Spelling, Abbreviations, and Capitalization

    1. Home page, Web-site, e-mail, and the like should be closed up to one word each: homepage, website, email.  In general, when the dictionary allows for different levels of closedness for a word, it’s best to choose the more-closed option. Over time, new words tend to move from open or hyphenated to closed, and the older forms start to look antiquated.
    2. Also, the Internet, the Web, and the World Wide Web are capitalized, (but World Wide Web is a little old-fashioned now).
    3. Libertarian publishers vary widely on the meaning of liberal on its own. To disambiguate, you could go with left liberal or classical liberal in each case.
    4. Watch out for British spellings. The American forms are forward, backward, and among rather than forwards, backwards, and amongst. This is especially difficult for the Canadians among us.
    5. Watch out for inconsistencies in the spelling of words from Arabic. Use Koran and al-Qaeda, not Qur’an and al Qaeda.
    6. The US Treasury issues T-bills, which are also called Treasuries, not Treasurys.
    7. Most academic degrees are lowercase when used generically, but Habilitation (and any other foreign words that are initial-capped in their own languages) is always initial-capped: Mel has a master’s degree, but Humboldt has a Habilitation.
    8. In general, open up abbreviations: US dollar NOT USD.
    9. When it’s a noun, US should be expanded to United States. When it’s an adjective, US still doesn’t get periods between the letters (but see point 4 in Chicago 10.4).
    10. In the names of counties and other political divisions, the words county, state, and so on are considered part of the name (and capitalized accordingly) only if they follow the name. When preceding the name, such terms are usually capitalized in names of countries but lowercased in entities below the national level (Editing for Liberty #3).
    11. When a name refers to the government of a place, rather than the place it administers, words like county and state are almost always capitalized (Chicago 8.51). However, it’s the Clinton administration, not the Clinton Administration.

A Note on Authors

    1. Each author has a different personality, set of needs, and relationship with the publisher.
    2. When you send the author the copyedited version, do point out the most substantial changes you made. The last thing you want is for an author to be surprised at some cut or rewording (see “Copyediting Is about Three People“).

More Tips

Did you find these useful for your own editing and publishing practice? Do you have any more tips to add? We’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment for us below.

One response to “Tips for Editing

  1. Pingback: Em Dashes and Ellipses in Ebooks | Invisible Order

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