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The Most Common Mechanical Mistakes as Seen by Dog Ear Editors

Some authors are surprised to learn that they can help editors be better at their job. Stephanie and Angela talk about how that happens—and why editors appreciate it so much.


Stephanie: Angela and I have been editing collectively for 31 years. In this podcast, we try to take some of the confusion out of writing a book.

In today’s podcast, we are talking about the most common mistakes that we Dog Ear editors see, specifically, the ones that you can take care of, before sending your manuscript to us, so we can focus on more of the big picture things and help you polish your manuscript.

Angela: Exactly. These are going to be very simple things for you to fix before you even have to send it our way. We promise, nothing too technical or mechanical, even though Mechanical Mistakes is the title of the podcast today.

Stephanie: We have five, really, that are the big ones.

Angela: Yes.

Stephanie: The first one is that only one space should follow a period. It used to be standard practice, way back when, even in my life, that included. That you had two spaces after a period. We’re going away from that. This is a really quick fix that you can do easily. We can do it easily too, but it saves still, that much more time, so that we don’t have to explain to you what we’re doing. You can open up your Word document and do control F, and you have your find box, type two spaces in that find box, click replace and then enter just one space there. Do a replace all, and viola, your document has replaced all double spaces with a single space.

Angela: Exactly. Remember to save a copy of your document before you do this because, oops do happen, but as Stephanie said, it’s pretty simple. It will take you, gosh, even the huge files take less than, probably, about five seconds. Save yourself the trouble, save us the trouble and go ahead and take care of it.

Stephanie: Absolutely. Then, if you want to, you can do the same thing with … Actually, you know what, that’ll solve everything. I was going to say, you can search for question mark, but no, because I told you the nice and easy way to do it, so nevermind.

Angela: That’s right. We can’t make it too complicated today, I already promised.

Stephanie: I made it simple and then I was trying to make it more complicated.

Angela: Why would you do that?

Stephanie: That’s currently just the way I’m working today. Wow. Oh, goodness.

Angela: We’re going to go to the next one. Number two, super easy, any number from one to 99, gets spelled out. Let’s say we say a, gosh, a two-hour dinner. The number two is spelled out T-W-O. Now, there’s some exceptions to this. Percentages, the number is not spelled out, but the word percent is spelled out. Street numbers aren’t spelled out. Highway numbers aren’t spelled out.

Stephanie: Correct. Specific times, a general, 3 o’clock, that’s spelled, but specific times, say 3:23, that should use digits.

Angela: Exactly. It can get a little bit more complicated with really large numbers, like millions, and thousands, and things like that. You don’t have to worry about those, editors take care of those things, but something simple, like if you’re writing a street address, go ahead and write the numbers down. Otherwise, spell them out and you’re good to go.

Stephanie: Sometimes, based on context, we’ll change some things to digits or leave some things as digits, but again, like Angela said, that’s one of the more complex things. We’ll handle that for you.

Angela: Right. Exactly, because this was what we’re talking about in non-technical texts. When you get into scientific stuff, it changes a little bit.

Stephanie: Third on the list is the treatment of thoughts, which we put in italics and no quotation marks. We see a lot of people like to put any sort of weird combination. We’ve see thoughts in italics and quotation marks, and with nothing, and I can’t even count all of the things I’ve seen. The key is with thoughts, put the words that are the thoughts in italics. In dialog, you would put that in quotation marks.

Angela: Exactly. When she’s talking about thoughts, we’re talking about anything from something as simple as the character thought, or something more complex like they’re hearing a voice inside their head. I just recently did an edit where there were demons involved and the demons were speaking inside the people’s heads. For me, that is a thought inside someone’s head. It’s not spoken.

Stephanie: Absolutely.

Angela: If you put dialog, like quotation marks around it, it’s going to confuse readers because they’re used to that being spoken out loud. We always do that in italics.

Stephanie: Exactly. I was … go ahead.

Angela: I was just going to add that, she thought or he thought, is all you need. You don’t need, he thought to himself, or she thought to himself, it’s implied.

Stephanie: Yes. I always like to say that. The one exception is, of course, like you’ve mentioned, the demons, or in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern, for example, that series. The dragons and their riders have a telepathic link, so you do have conversations back and forth in thought, so in those cases, it may be necessary, she thought to, or said to, to whatever. But, for the most part, yes, absolutely, you say, she thought, or he thought. That’s it, no himself, no herself, none of that.

Angela: Exactly. Number five, suspension points. They’re those three little periods that you see, when people are faltering, or the sentence is fragmented. In one of our samples, in our article, we wrote, “She wondered if she should finish her … No, best to leave it until tomorrow, she decided.” You’ve got those suspension points there, to indicate she was, maybe, thinking about saying something else, but no, no, no, she changed her mind, she didn’t say anything at all.

Stephanie: I think a lot of people, in my experience, a lot of people don’t use ellipses, but those people who do use them, tend to use them a lot. If you are one of those people, do, please, review the rules of the Chicago Manual of Style, because they can get complex. They really are easy in this setting, it’s the C-M-S 13.39, but, oh, my gosh, lost the thought.

Angela: How complicated they can get and other instances.

Stephanie: Yes. They can get complicated but only if you let them. They really are easy. Really, where they can get the most complicated is if you are quoting passages. I think a lot of people think that they need to have ellipses at the beginning of quoted material, at the end of quoted material, and that’s not the case. In that case, if you are writing non-fiction and are quoting a lot of material, please refer to the Chicago Manual of Style, Chapter 13, points 48 through 56. Those are going to give you everything you need to know about quoting, about using ellipses in quoted material.

Angela: Exactly. I actually have … Go ahead.

Stephanie: No, please go ahead.

Angela: I was going to say, I actually have two very quick, additional, common mechanical mistakes that we try to stay away from and the first is using all caps in a manuscript. That’s something, I never see all caps, unless it’s a sign that specifically looks that way. I think it looks a little unprofessional. We tend to use italics and just traditional font structure for things like that.

Stephanie: I agree. There are sometimes when I use those all caps.

Angela: Right.

Stephanie: But, usually it’s when there’s italics and someone yelling.

Angela: Right.

Stephanie: That really is the key. When there is yelling and not just emphasis.

Angela: Right. Exactly.

Stephanie: Please don’t use bold for emphasis.

Angela: No, or underlining, no underlining.

Stephanie: No. We see that online a lot and part of that is just because of the way electronics work and they affect our eyes. There are actually technical things you could get into about which fonts are better and such, but the key is, don’t use bold for emphasis in text.

Angela: Exactly.

Stephanie: That is not good. I actually wanted to go back a bit, because I did actually combine, when we were talking about italics and quotation marks. I’m sorry, dialog and thought, so italics and quotation marks. In quotation marks, we did note, in our article that you put punctuation inside the quotation marks. I do want to put out that, that is for American users. Sometimes that is off, but for American users, the safest thing is to put your punctuation inside those quotation marks.

Angela: When you start getting into things that feel tricky, or you’ve looked up, you don’t understand them, don’t worry about it.

Stephanie: Exactly.

Angela: Send it to us, we’ll obviously be glad to help you take care of it. We’re just trying to cover some things today that, honestly, these are almost a punch list. That with almost every manuscript that comes in, these are the things we go through and fix, almost every single time. We figured letting you know, helps you and helps us. That’s why we’re doing this, today.

Stephanie: That’s right. Then, that way when you are mindful of these few things and you can do your best to take care of the ones that you can, and again, not worry about the ones that just confuse you beyond measure.

Angela: Exactly.

Stephanie: Then, that helps you create a stronger manuscript. It’s cleaner and that allows us, as editors, to really focus on things like style and to take care of those less common things. We spend more time on the things that can really polish your manuscript and give it more shine. And your writing is really going to benefit from that and your readers are really going to have an easier time.

Angela: Absolutely.