Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Nerdy Grammar Joke

A panda bear walks into a restaurant and asks to be seated. He orders a sandwich, eats it, and asks to see his bill. When the waiter returns with the check, the panda draws a gun, fires at the waiter, then makes his way towards the exit.

"Excuse me sir, what do you think you're doing?" the restaurant owner yells after the bear. "You've shot my waiter! Why?"

The panda produces a poorly punctuated wildlife manual and hands it to the man. "I'm a panda. Look it up," he says.

As the panda leaves, the man flips to the appropriate page and reads, "Panda. Large black and white mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

BA DUM TSSSH. Let this be a lesson to you. The comma makes all the difference :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Proofreading vs. Copy Editing: How Much Help Do I Really Need?

If you are anything like me, you have once in your life thought that "proofreading" and "copy editing" are synonymous words, and thus, interchangeable. I could not tell you how surprised I was when I learned, during my senior publishing lab at ISU, that the two are drastically different. Who'da thunk, right?

As a writer and an editor, it is vitally important to both acknowledge and understand that these terms are different, what each one describes, and how each one is performed.

Proofreading is a basic form of editing, meant for catching errors in typography (typos), misspellings, incorrect/missing punctuation, or errors in grammar. Your editor will call your attention to these conventional errors by using proofreader's marks, normally in a bright color that catches the eye (red is most common.) Your editor will read through your draft once, and then they should read through it again to confirm their corrections or catch any additional errors they may have missed the first time around. It doesn't hurt to ask your editor to read your manuscript twice in proofreading. Normally, an editor will specify which style guide he or she uses when questions arise. For example, I use The Chicago Manual of Style. In proofreading, you editor will not comment on the plot or content of the manuscript at all, and there are rarely any queries.

Copy Editing:
Copy editing is a more in-depth and time consuming venture for both the author and editor. It will take longer to get a manuscript back if it is submitted to an editor for copy editing. In copy editing, it is the editor's job to fulfill what is known as the "Five Cs", that is, that the document is clear, correct, concise, complete, and consistent. An editor will examine the content of the manuscript, comment on errors in consistency (plot and language), style, unnecessary or missing words or information, flow, and accuracy. Copy editing involves lots of queries, usually in the form of Post-It notes. If the editor has a question for the author, he or she will indicate where this question arose and what it is in a separate note to the author. Your editor may also ask you to clarify, expand on something, or omit confusing or conflicting information.

Why it is important:
As a writer, you want to make sure you understand which service is which, and which one will benefit your manuscript the most so you can give your editor correct instructions, and ultimately end up getting what you pay for.

If you are in the early stages, or are not totally confident in your work, then copy editing will be a better choice. Your editor will go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, observing inconsistencies, plot holes, incorrect facts, items that don't make sense, conventions, grammar, and style. This will be especially important if you are a stream-of-consciousness writer or have a complex storyline or idea.

If you have gone over your work many times, or are in the later stages (sending sample chapters, or even querying agents or publishers) proofreading will be all you need. You've gotten a good hold on your content and story, but just need a second set of eyes to make sure all of your commas are in place and that nothing funky happened to your spacing. Another set of eyes will catch errors you may have overlooked when correcting your more substantial errors in your later drafts.

And obviously, an editor needs to know the difference so that they can complete the service that they are hired to do. A happy client is a repeat client, after all!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why Spell Check is Not Enough

The invention and implementation of computer spell check has been both a blessing and a curse to writers and editors. You can find spell check in almost every program on your computer that supports word processing. It appears in Word, TextEdit, your email, your blog...even users with certain operating systems have an automatic spell check feature that will underline misspelled words without you having to select the "check spelling" option.

Now, as I write, my browser has underlined "TextEdit" in red, alerting me that this word is spelled incorrectly. What an age we live in!

However, spell check is not enough. Even I, when I first learned of this device, thought this would SO cut down on the time it took to revise papers I wrote before handing them in for grading. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way (as I'm sure MANY people have) that spell check does NOT catch all of your errors.

For example:

i walked down to there room. It wasn't like I had intended to go the re myself, but no body had wanted to go threw this torture with me. When I knocked on the door, I meant to announce myself to, but I was so nervous I forgot i was even standing there in the first place. It was quite inside the room. I assumed nobody was home. Thank goodness, on less confrontation i had to face that day.

There are numerous errors in that passage, but not a single thing is outlined in red by spell check. Here is the correct paragraph:

I walked down to their room. It wasn't like I had intended to go there myself, but nobody had wanted to go through this torture with me. When I knocked on the door, I meant to announce myself too, but I was so nervous I forgot I was even standing there in the first place. It was quiet inside the room. I assumed nobody was home. Thank goodness, one less confrontation I had to face that day.

Ten blatant errors that spell check missed. And often, writers overlook these errors because your brain knows what you are trying to say and reads your words correctly.

Advice? Do not rely only on spell check to make your writing error-free. Watch commonly confused words (through/threw/though, two/too/to, quiet/quite, etc.), capitalization, and accidental spacing between letters or words. Spell check will not find these errors. Also, it helps to get a second set of eyes on your paper. Someone else is more likely to catch your slip-ups since they haven't read the writing over and over like you have.

Or, if you're going to attempt to get published...get in touch with a good editor (of course).

Monday, January 3, 2011

We All Start Somewhere

Some of us want to grow up and be ballerinas, and get to wear glamourous costumes and memorize challenging dance routines.

Some of us want to grow up and be firefighters, saving people's lives and facing danger every day.

Some of us don't know what we want to be when we grow up.

Me, on the other hand, I grew up feeling an indescribable joy whenever I held a red pen. I scrutinized the grammar and conventions of every printed word I read, and every conversation I held. I pored over grammar rules and sentence diagrams...loved memorizing proofreader's marks.

And that brought me here.

The following are my credentials:
- Bachelor's degree in Publishing Studies/English from Illinois State University
- Print and online editing and production experience through seven months of internships
- Freelance experience beginning in 2009
- Industry experience in technical editing since 2009
- Study of The Chicago Manual of Style

Oh, and I've been a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi since the 10th grade...if that makes a difference ;)