Editorial Decisions That Make You Go Hmmm

Girl with book, Montreal, Translation, SyllabusWhen it comes to editing, there’s a decision to be made at every line. Sure, you can check the Chicago Manual of Style, flip through your trusty grammar book, or ask others on a forum. The decision, however, comes down to your knowledge and preferences, the document at hand, and the client’s wishes.

Here are some sticky issues that often stump me and some tips on how to deal with them.

Capitals: In business documents, capitals letters run rampant across the page. From job and product descriptions to key words and business jargon—it can seem like half the text is capped. You can argue that the author used caps for emphasis, or you can assume they’re paying you to make the text better. At the writing stage, capital letters get sprinkled about like salt, but at the revision stage, if they’re not proper nouns, they’ve got to go.

Italics: Like capital letters, italics can appear everywhere for no good reason. In a press release, quoted material may appear in italics. Seems fine, that is, until you ask yourself why. Quotation marks indicate it’s a quotation—so what are the italics for? In fiction, internal dialogue looks overrun with italics, especially if there’s a lot of it. Italics be gone.

Comma splice: The writer’s style choice or a mistake? In a business doc, swap it for a semi‑colon or an em dash, or split the sentence in two. In fiction, let it be—unless it’s a writer’s tick. Comma splice after comma splice can make the writer look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

Sentence fragment: Ask yourself if the fragment is for effect or simply a mistake. In business docs, a fragment can add emphasis, so don’t edit it out immediately. If you’re counting fragments, though, lose a few. One is dramatic; five are annoying.

Comma overkill: Commas make reading easier, but too many make a text choppy. Commas are necessary to avoid ambiguity or misinterpretation, but sprinkling them around every phrase or before each conjunction is aggravating. On the flip side, cutting them out due to comma anxiety can lead to sloppy writing. Strike a balance.

What editing issues stump you?

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