Some Common Style Mistakes And How To Correct Them

StateImpacters, I know many of you come from a broadcast writing background where your scripts didn’t get publicly published. But now that you are expected to produce clean, error-free copy from the get-go, here is a guide, put together by my friend and former copy editor David Muto, to common style mistakes and how to correct them. Find the main StateImpact style guide in our documentation.

  • Remember your commas in numbers of four or more digits: 1,800-mile bridge, not 1800; also, it’s a 1,800-mile bridge, not an
  • capital is the economic/geographical term; capitol is the building, and it’s always uppercase if referring to a specific building. (Dumb trick: Picture the o as a capitol dome, if you get confused.)
  • toward, not towards
  • Remember that words like people and children are already plural, so if you’re using them in their possessive forms, it’s children’s/people’s, with the apostrophe before the s.
  • African-American. Note the hyphen.
  • Avoid the commonly misused “begs the question”, which is a type of logical fallacy. Raises the question or something similar works just the same.
  • multimillion, multibillion, multimillion-dollar, multibillion-dollar
  • Capitalize chairman/chairwoman before a name. In general use those, rather than chair, unless it is an organization’s formal title for an office.
  • Watch your modifiers: It’s highest-profile, not most high-profile.
  • Most of the time, it’s forgo, not forego. (Forgo means to abstain from; forego means to go before, as in foregone conclusion.)
  • Use numerals with percents and percentage points: The poll showed Perry leading by 6 points. Use numerals with your percents, even if they’re less than 10.
  • Capitalize libertarian only when referring to the political party. Thus, Kathie Glass is running on the Libertarian ticket, but her political ideology is libertarian.
  • And to reiterate our acronym policy: Avoid them if possible, instead referring back to subjects in general terms: the commission, the committee, the agency, the department, the group. If this creates a morass of general terms or leads to more ambiguity than it’s worth, acronyms are okay — but rather than using parentheses on first reference, work the acronym into the sentence naturally: The official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said he’d attend. And, of course, it’s still okay to abbreviate those biggies like FBI and NASA on first reference and other prolific Texas terms, on second reference, like SBOE and TxDOT.
  • Keep watching your verb tenses (said/says) for consistency.
  • Stop yourself when you want to begin a sentence with However, followed by a comma. “But” is less stilted and usually works just as well.
  • Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it begins a complete sentence.
  • If you’re referencing a date, use Monday, Tuesday, etc. for days of the week within seven days before or after the current date. When writing out dates, here are your month abbreviations: Jan., Feb., March, April, May, June, July, Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec. Exception: If you’re only noting a month and a year (January 2001), don’t abbreviate.
  • Similarly, when dealing with days of the week, don’t use “this” or “next.” Wrong: He spoke with StateImpact last Friday. Right: He spoke with StateImpact on Friday.
  • Capitalize Legislature when referring to a specific state’s legislature, but never capitalize legislative (including legislative session).
  • When making single letters plural, use apostrophes: D’s and R’s at odds over health care. (This avoids things like A’s looking like the word as.) But no apostrophes with groupings of letters: learning their ABCs.
  • Also, this one’s a biggie: Watch your hyperlinks to make sure that you’re only linking your desired words and not catching any extra spaces, or punctuation, before or after.

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