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Maxims for editors

Things editors would do well to remember:

Accuracy first, then clarity, then precision, and last, if there’s time, elegance.

The Associated Press Stylebook and The Elements of Style have not been incorporated into the Torah, the canonical Gospels, or the United States Code.

Don’t drop The Chicago Manual of Style on your foot.

The writer might be right.

Don’t type two spaces after a period.

Dictionaries tell you how people talk and write, not how you ought to talk and write.

Any project will occupy three times the anticipated time and energy to achieve one-third the intended result.

“i” before “e,” except after “c”

The most embarrassing errors will appear in the big type.

Stand up for the Oxford comma whenever you can.

Satisfaction over identifying other people’s mistakes is best celebrated inwardly – or after work at the bar with other editors.

Someone else will get the glory. Let it go.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:04 AM | | Comments (6)


“i” before “e,” except after “c”

or except in "weird"... which is weird

I should have added that any day on which you leave work without having throttled someone or cut your own throat with a butter knife counts as a good day.

"Don’t drop The Chicago Manual of Style on your foot. "
It's true. That sucker is enormous. Might break a toe.

If a story is written by two or more people, it will also have an unnamed ghost contributor who wrote the parts you have questions about.

"The White House is at Sixteen Hundred Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest" will be far more useful to the reader than "The White House is at 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW."

I love it! Especially agree with standing up for the Oxford comma.

As for "Accuracy first, then clarity, then precision, and last, if there’s time, elegance."

I also agree, with one exception: when editing the work of engineers, I have found that clarity sometimes precedes accuracy because the editor must understand what the engineer is trying to say.

I've been wondering about the rationale for not using two spaces after a period. At the wordorigins forum it was mentioned that it was OK with a fixed font such as one had on an old typewriter but that it was no longer necessary with proportional fonts. This makes no sense to me since the amount of space two spaces would take up with a fixed font would be greater than they would with a proportional font. So what gives? My personal aesthetic viewpoint is that one space with a proportional font leaves the two sentences too close together for comfortable reading but that two spaces is just fine.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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