writing tips

Avoid Common Comma Errors:

Rule:

Use commas after the day of the month and after the year.

Romeo met Juliet on December 5, 2003, in Yeehaw Junction, Florida.

 

Rule:

If the date is omitted, leave out the commas.

They met in December 2003 in Yeehaw Junction, Florida.

 

Rule:

Use commas after the city and after the state.

Juliet had lived in Yeehaw Junction, Florida, for nine years.

 

Rule:

Use commas before and after degrees and titles used with names. (But commas are not required with Jr., Sr., II, III, and so forth.)

Romeo Kaminsky, M.D., treated Sam Jones Jr. and Charles Starr III.

 

Rule:

Use commas before and after business-entity designations such as Inc., LLC, and Ltd.

Sunshine, Inc., is based in
Miami, Florida.

 

Which vs. That:

Which” introduces a nonrestrictive clause; that is, a clause that could be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence. In this usage, “which” should be preceded by a comma.

That” introduces a restrictive clause — a clause that limits the scope of the subject of the sentence. “That” is not preceded by a comma.

JunkMoCo is recalling all of its cars, which are defective.

vs.

JunkMoCo is recalling all of its
cars that are defective.

If you were a JunkMoCo shareholder, the distinction certainly wouldn’t be academic.

 

Possessives:

There’s somebody out there somewhere who has told a whole generation of writers that the possessive of any noun ending in “s” is formed by adding just an apostrophe. False. The possessive singular is formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s” — regardless of the final letter of the noun.

James’s Vespa

Francis’s frankness

The boss’s office

The Mercedes’s headlamp

The exceptions, according to Strunk and White, are possessives of ancient proper nouns ending in “-es” or “-is” (or “-us,” but only in the case of “Jesus.”)

Moses’ law

Ulysses’ quest

Isis’ followers

Jesus’ journey

With plural possessives, it is appropriate to add only the apostrophe.

The witches’ brew

The birds’ nests

The sailors’ tunes

You know, of course, that possessive personal pronouns (“hers,” “its,” “ours,” “yours,” etc.) don’t take apostrophes, but keep in mind that indefinite pronouns do require the apostrophe.

One’s effort

Someone’s fault

Somebody else’s deeds

 

Punctuating Quotations:

This is an area where writers who read widely tend to have the most problems. Brits and Americans punctuate quotations differently, so if you read a lot of Austen, Dickens or Waugh, you’re apt to be confused. In American English, the rules are simple:

 

Rule:

The comma always goes inside the final quotation mark.

“That most assuredly is true,”
he said.

 

Rule:

The period always goes inside the final quotation mark.

He said, “That most assuredly
is true.”

 

Rule:

The colon always goes outside the final quotation mark.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie”: name that tune.

 

Rule:

The semicolon always goes outside the final quotation mark.

He said, “That’s the best
minestrone I’ve ever tasted”;
however, he didn’t mean it.

 

Rule:

The question mark and the exclamation mark go inside or outside depending on the context. If the quote itself is a question or exclamation, the mark goes inside. Otherwise, it goes outside.

Inside:

“What’s happening, my friend?”
he asked.

“I’ve won!” she screamed.

Outside:

Did he really want her to say, “We’re more than friends”?

Never, never, never again say,
“I told you so”!

 

Politics Style Guide:

The following are AP Stylebook rules on the capitalization, spelling, punctuation and usage of common U.S. political terms. These tips are excerpted from a much longer list that the Associated Press compiled in preparation for the 2012 national elections.

presidency, presidential

The terms are lowercase, except in a title: Commission on Presidential Debates.

Congress, congressional

Capitalize when referring the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives together. The adjective is lowercase unless part of a formal name.

congressman, congresswoman

Not formal titles, spelled lowercase. Rep. is the preferred title before the name of a U.S. House member: Rep. Judy Chu.

majority leader, minority leader

Capitalize as formal legislative title before a name: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, otherwise lowercase.

conservative

Lowercase for a political philosophy, capitalize in a formal name: the Conservative Party.

convention

Lowercase except in formal name: the Democratic convention, the Democratic National Convention.

Democrat, Democratic Party

Both are capitalized. Don’t use Democrat Party.

Election Day, election night

The first is capitalized, the second is lowercase. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

first lady

Not an official title, spelled lowercase (except when starting a sentence: First lady ... ).

fundraiser, fundraising

Single words in all uses.

front-runner

Candidate who leads a political race; the term is hyphenated.

leftist, ultra-leftist

Avoid these terms in favor of more precise descriptions of political leanings.

liberal, liberalism

Lowercase for a political philosophy. Capitalize in a formal name: the Liberal Party.

middle class (n.), middle-class (adj.)

Key voting group encompassing about 42 percent of U.S. households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 annually, according to White House Council of Economic Advisers.

PAC, super PAC

Political action committee raises money for candidates or parties from donations by individuals, but not businesses or labor unions. A super PAC may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, including from corporations and unions, to support candidates for federal office but must operate independently.

policymaker, policymaking

Both are compounds.

press secretary

Seldom a formal title and thus lowercase.

re-elect, re-election

Both are hyphenated.

Republican, Republican Party

Both terms are capitalized. GOP (Grand Old Party) may be used on second reference.

rightist, ultra-rightist

Avoid these terms in favor of more precise descriptions of political leanings.

tea party

Lowercase the populist movement that opposes the Washington political establishment. Adherents are tea partyers. Formally named groups in the movement are capitalized: Tea Party Express.

 

Technology Terms:

The Associated Press has revised its style rules on various technology-related terms.

email (changed from e-mail)

But other e-words remain hyphenated:

e-commerce

e-book

e-strategies

the Internet is capitalized

website is one word (changed from web site)

Other web-compounds also are treated as one word:

webcam

webcast

webmaster

The Web, as a short form of the World Wide Web, is capitalized in all uses:

a Web page

a Web feed

Tech terms that are often represented by capitalized initials (e.g., SEO, PPC, CTR) are not capitalized when spelled out:

search engine optimization

pay-per-click

click-through rate

reading for writers

We here at millionth monkey devote a ridiculous amount of time to reading about writing. We have consumed all of the following writing-related books and take great pleasure in recommending them to you. For your convenience, we have linked each book to its description on Amazon.com.

reflections by accomplished writers

literary theory

nuts and bolts

right brain stuff

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