The Art of Editing, or Should Writers Use the Singular “They”?

should writers use the singular theyI recently completed line editing a dystopian novel. After going through my edits, the author wrote to me with several questions, prefacing them with this statement:

“I made the mistake of not pestering my last editor on details like these. I’m not making that mistake again.”

He was absolutely correct to question something he didn’t understand, and I assured him that I would answer any queries he had. After all, how can writers improve their writing if they write in a vacuum?

One of his questions concerned pronouns and antecedents:

I’ve read about the use and acceptance of gender-neutral pronouns. I prefer gender-neutral pronouns when I talk. You seem to be correcting against the use of gender-neutral pronouns in my writing. May I ask why? Is the world about to go to war over this? I really wish it wasn’t an issue, but apparently it still is. Does using gender-neutral pronouns make my writing look that bad?

I want to be one of the trendsetters that makes gender neutral pronouns the norm, but I don’t want my work to suffer for it. How do I walk that line?”

Ahhh, the controversial use of “they” with a singular antecedent, or as one of my fellow editors calls it, the “informal singular ‘they.’” Continue reading “The Art of Editing, or Should Writers Use the Singular “They”?”

4 Simple Answers to the Question "Where Do Those Pesky Periods Go, Anyway?"

periods quotation marks
“Where in the heck does this period go???”

We all know a period comes at the end of a sentence, but there seems to be some confusion about its placement when quotation marks or parentheses are involved.

I love to start my day by reading other bloggers posts. I usually find at least one gem to post on my Facebook page (check it out—lots of great writer-related stuff there!). Lately, though, I’ve also found the same mistake made across numerous blog posts: the incorrect placement of a period. It’s a simple mistake and one I’m particularly aware of, since I too made it a million times before I got the rules through my thick head!

Simple Rules for Periods with Quotation Marks and Parentheses

  1. Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single. Example: “Mary wore red shoes,” he told us, “because she doesn’t own a pair in black.”
  2. The exception to #1 is when a parenthetical reference follow. Example: “Mary wore red shoes,” Smith wrote. “She doesn’t own a black pair” (13).
  3. When an entire independent sentence is enclosed in parentheses or square brackets, the period belongs inside the closing parenthesis or bracket. Example: Mary wore red shoes. (She doesn’t own a pair in black.)
  4. When text in parentheses or brackets—even a grammatically complete sentence,—is included within another sentence, the period belongs outside. Example: Mary word red shoes (because she doesn’t own a pair in black).
Where do periods go when quotation marks are involved? #editing #grammar #punctuation #writetip Click To Tweet

But WAIT! I’ve been speaking of American English . . . what about British English? And what about less “formal” writing, like text messages and blog posts?

What about Texting or in Social Media Use?

According to Slate.com, “Indeed, unless you associate exclusively with editors and prescriptivists, you can find copious examples of the “outside” technique—which readers of Virginia Woolf and The Guardian will recognize as the British style—no further away than your Twitter or Facebook feed.”

Hmmm . . . so is this Slate.com writer saying common usage trumps the rules? I don’t agree; common usage and proper usage aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m as relaxed as the next person when I’m quickly typing a text message, but I’ll continue to correct those outside-the-quotes periods when I’m editing a manuscript.

What about you? Do you care where those pesky periods show up? How do you remember if they go inside or outside other punctuation?

Check reliable reference sources like the Chicago Manual of Style, the Modern Language Association (MLA) handbook, or Purdue Owl for more on this topic.

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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer,  and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining the author’s unique voice while helping them create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

For more great writing and publishing information, follow Change It Up Editing and Writing Services on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn too!

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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