Common prose mistakes, per EN-US standards, AP Style and a prerequisite eight-grade literacy level*
A. Their, They're There. "Their" is the third-person plural possessive tense meaning "Belonging to them"
Ex. "Don't get mixed up in their bulls---" "They're" is a contraction, the third-person plural
present-tense of "to be"
Ex. "They're in need of a refresher course in English"
"There" - indicating a location in space.
Ex. "Bill saw a chupacabra there."
B. Its /It's. "Its" is a third-person possessive pronoun meaning "Belonging to it" His and Hers may help
you remember this exception, normally possessive nouns contain an apostrophe....
"It's" contraction meaning "It is." Third-person present tense of "To be"
C. Redundancies. Stop it! Makes writer seem 'tarded.
a. "Very" - never use. "I'm tired" or "I'm very tired"? delete the waste of space and typesetting. Use
"I'm tired" Clear and concise.
b. "I think" - of course you do, you wrote it! Many use this to qualify "The following is my opinion"
Ok...if your communique' is not completely clear to the audience on whether it contains only facts,
only opinion or a mix, qualify your writing in the HEAD "Commentary by Tapper" "Editorial" or
"The views express herein do not reflect those of Google, Inc., Drum Corps International, any
affiliate corps, vendors or sponsors" Make sense?
c."Hope this helps." as in letter 'b' above - implied, many help forums ban or flag this oft-used
needless sentiment it's irrational waste.
d. ", and" the "and" takes the place of a comma. It never comes before "and."
D. Basic style.
a. Sentences do not begin with "Because," "But" or "However" they are preceded by a comma and
part of the previous sentence, hence they are one thought. One sentence.
b. In general, use the following format for numbers: "one, two, three, four ...nine,
10,11...19...99"...119...infinity." Spell out "zero"..."0" is ambiguous. Spell ordinals same
way (First...Ninth, 10th, 11th...) Sentences BEGINNING with a numeral or ordinal should always be
Ex. "One-hundred nineteen times I told you to shut up!"
Ex. "Tapper is 35 years old. Bill Feynman is 65."
Ex. "In 1998, The Concord Blue Devils came in third place at Nationals."
c. Most things said to be "ironic" are "coincidence."**
d. verbal attribution, use "said" and only "said." "Lamented" "shouted" "cried"...these are not only your
interpretation, but are ambiguous and foster muddy communication so save the poeticisms F Scott!
e Flags on land fly on staffs, therefore they fly at "half-staff" on sombre occasions. Ships at sea lower
their flags to "half-mast" ... If you are online with your big political viewpoint about South Carolina
and you mention flags in the capitol flying (or not flying) at "half-mast" I'm forced to assume you have
no idea what you are talking about, nullifying another lame tweet.
f. NOW is an acronym (because the letters stand for something and can be pronounced as a separate
stand- alone word. SIGINT is an acronym, as is LACMA, MOMA, DARPA...etc. The OCSD and the SLODA
are not, those are corrupt organizations***) NOW is the National Organization for Women, accent on
the "for" most think it is "of" -please learn and remember.
g. Colons only appear after a statement containing the word "following"
Ex. The following should be used in place of colon to indicate an ordered or unordered list in a statement sans the word "following":
E. Attribution. If you did not say it, say who did. If you did not write it, give credit. For technical writing use AMA Style for attributing people and publications. If you are tweeting a movie quote, put it in quotations and append the name of the movie, screenwriter who wrote the original line (ideally) or the character/actor that said it, followed by the name of the movie.
Ex. "I'm not that horny, I just got out of prison" --Jim Hogshire, screenwriter, "Let's Got to Prison"
Ex. "Welcome to Home Depot, I love you" --Mike Judge & Etan Coen, co-screenwriters, "Idiocracy"
Ex. "It appears that Mr. Ringo is an educated man...now I truly hate him" --Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday,
F. Legal primer. Never oversimplify. Triple check all facts and prose, defer to an expert or actual lawyer as needed....it's easy to slip and do something horrendously awful, hurtful, unethical or illegal when reporting on the law and especially criminal law. Let's say your neighbour got arrested today and from what he told you plus your first-hand observations, it involves spousal abuse.
1. Wrong: "Boo Radley was arrested today on suspicion of assault"
1a. Wrong because: getting arrested has nothing to do with charges. It only means ....getting arrested. Most fundamental rights deal with access to a fair trial.
2. You need a first-person account from the DA, the accused or a verified statement from the CO of the jail or an attorney-bondsman to report whatever the police clipped him for.
3. What Penal Codes a citizen is presumed to have violated by local cops and what the DA will or will not file at arraignment are often out-of-sync. Using law enforcement as a source makes Radley seem guilty. Correct: "Boo Radley was taken into custody today by the OCSD and awaits arraignment." (Says almost nothing--nothing is all that can be ethically written in a report at this point in time, best practice is to wait for his court date. Should an editor demand information, interview neighbours and report what they SAID. DO NOT report anything the police say unless it could harm someone physically if you DON'T)False legal reports are sloppy journalism, make us look like assholes AND meet the definition of libel should the charges be dropped or Radley found innocent.
4. Wrong: "versus" "Vs." "vs" Correct: 'v.' as in "Near v. Minnesota"
5. "An eye for an eye" - def. the punishment should fit the crime. The notion is a Judeo-Christian precept of mitigation, not extreme punishment.
Ex. It does NOT mean a convicted murderer should be executed.
G. Shorthand - keep it to your texts and FB. Not everyone knows what WTFOMGROFL or what Rule 34 means. ttys and ttyl, emoticons and the like are too informal for professional communication. Use std. EN-US. (abbv. r ok. 4 emails tho!)
H. General - it's impossible to edit and proof your OWN prose with 100 percent accuracy but we can do much to improve our prose and most of the time we write unedited. For publishing, print, marketing, labels, packaging, ads, etc...always print out your clip on black and white paper and proof it using ambient sunlight.
The human eye is not used to reading accurately via projected LED/LCD/Cathode-Ray light. As an editor, I have a responsibility to return copy ERRORLESS (in this case the writer HAS the second pair of eyes needed - and they are mine), hence I don't edit on-screen and I take my time...err...time permitting.
1. NEVER trust a spell-checker.
2. Never misspell a person's name. If you need to make a phone call to verify a name, make the call.
3. Don't be stupid.
4. After you've triple-checked them I double-check on top. Periodicals lose sources and blow investigations over this. People get really pissed when they see their name misspelled.
5. If you work for a company that sells sh--, CUSTOMERS cancel accounts over misspelled names - Especially their own name and their company's name. Verify titles as well, while Mr. Mrs. Ms. is outdated and not used per AP Style, ….
6. "Dr." "President" "Rev." or appends like "Esq." some incorporate these into their identity so if we fail to label them accurately, we may be saying goodbye to them permanently.
7. Use of "-" to modify a noun...getting too lazy to post rules, but every-time I used it in this post is done so correctly.
8. Same for "who/whom"" which I also encourage you to review OR wait for version two of this post.
"Alot" is not a word in any language.
"Liaison" is spelled correctly.
Stop beginning every f--ing sentence with "I" --you're better than that.
Check verb tenses and stop swapping them around in the same context it makes me physically ill.
*US News and Periodicals are normally written at an eight-grade level to establish a "lower-bound" for language research indicates is understood by the MOST readers possible/practical. The exception being professional journals such as JAMA.
**Look it up I'm trying to keep this post concise
***Reference to the awful law enforcement agencies of Orange County California, The Sheriff's Department and The District Attorney's Office. They are not all bad, but most are. I lifted and re-wrote this joke wby George Carlin who also lived in this backwards, xenophobic, anti-Semitic wasteland.
Hogshire, James, "You Are Going To Prison" Loompanics. Lansing Michigan. 1994.
Goldstein, Norm, et at. ""AP Style Handbook and briefing on media law" The Associated Press. New York 2004.
SPJ Ethical Codes, avail.spj.org
Thomas Jefferson et al. ""The US Constituion" The Federal Government of The United States of America, 1787.
Carlin, George, "Brain Droppings" Hyperion, New York, 1997.
Sagan, Carl, "Cosmos" Random House, New York, 1980.