Why bother?

Punctuation is the rule of breathing while you are reading. If you do it in your head or read it aloud, you are taking breaths at points along the sentences. Where you take these breaths can change the whole meaning - "Let's eat Grandpa," and "Let's eat, Grandpa."

Below are the common corrections I have to make as a copy-editor/proof-reader, and these slow down my progress. It would be appreciated if you could go through these points before submitting your work to make sure of a quick turnaround. Please feel free to correct me and add to the information below if you have any thoughts.


If you are addressing somebody, the commas go round the subject:

“I think you’re great, Scott, and deserve a medal.” (Great Scott!). Compare that with: "I think you're Great Scott; I know your voice."
The best way to work out where the commas go is to read the speech out to yourself. You put a comma where you would take a breath. If it’s a longer breath with connected action, then use a semi-colon. Colons are only used at the beginning of a list.
Having said that, don’t over-use your commas. Put them in where the breath comes if you were reading. You don’t normally need them before ‘because’ and other connecting words, unless deliberately for emphasis.

For more examples see WriteExpress, one of many sites and blogs dedicated to the subject.

Speech Marks

Always use double quotations to save confusing with apostrophes - see example above. Back to top of page


It is very easy to leave a space at the end or beginning of a line. Make sure you have the ‘Show hidden formatting symbols’ on when you are doing your final check-through. Use only one space between sentences now. The two space rule was to do with the original typesetting machines and is no longer used.


These denote possession or a missed out letter (or series of letters) - not plurals! E.g.
The cat’s hat (the hat of the cat) was wedged on its head
The cat’s scratched up the carpet (the cat has scratched up the carpet) with its claws (the claws of the cat).
The cats scratched up the carpet with their claws (both my cats have been naughty today). It's (it is) my fault for putting it there.
Notice its (belonging to it) and it's (short for 'it is')

Colons and semi-colons

These always catch people out. The easy answer:
Where you have a list following a statement, use a colon: "He counted out the three problems on his fingers: fish, sponge and fiddle."
Where you have two connected sentences, use a semi-colon: "He counted out three problems; the fish one was the worst."
Don't use a semi-colon if you join the sentences: "He counted out three problems, however he could see that the 'fiddle' one would get him into most trouble." Arguably you don't need the comma at all here, but do read the item above on commas again before deciding not to use any.


The plague of the Social Media generation (and signwriters it seems)
Plurals never get apostrophes!
Three dentists, two calling hens and a pile of CDs.

Connected words

Where a pair of words need to be attached but are not a combined word - e.g. camp bed, slip a hyphen in if you can’t join them directly.
So, we have the phrase the ‘red headed blue eyed dog fish’. Think where the emphasis could be on the sentence. Is there a blue-eyed dog involved?
This really should be the ‘redheaded, blue-eyed dogfish’.


This is three dots in a row, meant to signify where a statement tails off. “Oh my god…” He stood back in amazement. Always three dots, always attached to the word that tails off and always a space before the next word along the line.
It can also be used for broken speech:
"You took the words..." He paused as the crocodile sank its teeth into his finger.
"...out of my mouth," she concluded from the doorway.

Proper names

Mum, Dad, Doctor etc. Where Mum is a name, e.g. in “Hi, Mum,” it gets a capital. Where it is just a thing, e.g. ‘your mum’, ‘her fish’ etc., it is in lower case.Back to top of page
Another example to consider is Doctor. “Doctor Davies”, “the doctor will see you now…” “I think you are amazing, Doctor.” Generally, doctor (GP) is in lower case where it is a thing, and upper where it is a direct name.


Yes, here I go again, on about using styles for all of your text; sorry.
Please use the styles at the top of the Home page (in Microsoft Word). If you set up the style, and use that for everything, it is so much easier to update. E.g. A single change to the Normal style will update everything in your document with the new formatting.
If you are really stuck with learning Word, then I can offer training, or you need to be prepared to pay your editors lots in order to put it right.
As an example, editing an 80k word document if the rules above are followed takes about a day. Rewriting the whole thing for you will take a week, and that is before you have made any changes recommended. Use Styles for everything, including centred, italic and underline.


Details of dashes are covered more fully in the June 2017 newsletter but to summarise, there are three main types:
The standard hyphen, used when linking words such as twenty-one, purple-tinged and car-park
The e-n dash, so called because it is the length of the 'N' character, used in stuttered words, e.g "H-h-h-he lied to me."
The e-m dash, the length of the 'M' character used for breaks in conversation or instead of parenthesis. E.g. “I—I’m fine.” or His car was blue — the red one was in the garage.

To Conclude

If you can make it easier for your editor, you will spend less on the proofing and get a more professional book as a result. If you don't bother proofing, the book will be unreadable and you get zero sales (now that people can return an e-book for credit if they haven't read more than a few pages.)


Robert Wingfield - May 2017