Monday, March 5, 2012

Mechanics—The Standards Part 5

The opening scene of the movie “IQ” with Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan has Robbins and his fellow mechanics tuned to the sounds of an approaching car. Each mechanic is attempting to determine the kind of car it is and what’s wrong with it by what they hear. They know and understand all things car. That’s the kind of mechanic you want fixing your car!

Just as a good mechanic has a great ear, an excellent copyeditor has a finely tuned eye and a solid knowledge of writing standards. The standards to which I am referring are style manuals. Every publishing house establishes a house style. It consists of using one specific style manual and dictionary.

Style manuals are numerous (is anything ever easy?), which is why it is necessary to create a house style. Here are a few of the choices:

The Chicago Manual of Style (often the choice in book publishing)
The Associated Press Stylebook (often the choice in newspapers and magazines)
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
Words into Type
MLA Style Manual

Many businesses also develop an in-house style guide that addresses issues that either aren’t covered in the style manuals or go against convention, e.g. capitalization of pronouns when referring to deities. The Chicago Manual, 16th Edition states “Pronouns referring to God or Jesus are not capitalized” (pg. 427), but many Christian organizations go against this convention and capitalize these pronouns. This becomes a part of the in-house style guide their copyeditors must know as well as they know the standard manual.

When hiring a freelance copyeditor, ask what style manual they use. If you want a specific style, find out whether the editor knows that style and can edit accordingly. If you work in one realm more than any other, it behooves you to learn the style most widely used by those publishers and use it yourself.

Next, we’ll look at Mechanics—The Details. Until then…

Debra L. Butterfield © 2012 

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