I am a rule keeper—a conservative, stay-between-the-lines type who usually insists on carefully following every regulation. That’s a good thing for a copy editor, right? After all, a copy editor’s job is to implement traditionally accepted grammar and punctuation standards that make it possible for writers to clearly communicate and readers to easily understand.
However, the reasoning behind some of those rules is now obsolete, and what was learned in elementary school as gospel may have evolved. Here are seven traditional standards that have changed over time to reflect the way in which we actually speak to each other.
1. Never start a sentence with and or but. These conjunctions are used to join two independent clauses into one sentence. But for impact or to avoid overly long sentences, beginning with a conjunction works very well.
2. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Massaging a sentence to avoid ending with a preposition can sound awkward. Which makes more sense: “For what are you looking?” or “What are you looking for?” But, if the preposition can be eliminated at the end of the sentence without changing the meaning, do so. (As in, “Where are you at?”)
3. Don’t use slang. If slang fits your audience, use it. If it sounds forced or false, don’t.
4. Don’t make up words. Why not? Dr. Seuss did. Shakespeare did. But, if it sounds like you’re trying too hard to be clever, don’t do it.
5. No sentence fragments allowed. Fragments can useful. Really.
6. Always double space between sentences. Two white spaces between sentences actually hinder eye movement across the page. Use only one.
7. I before E, except after C, etc. There are too many exceptions to this outdated mnemonic device for it to be reliable. For instance: “I before E except when you run a feisty heist on a weird beige foreign neighbor.” (www.gramerly.com)
Disclaimer and shameless plug: You need to know the rules before you have the credibility to break them. Do your homework. Enlist the aid of a copy editor who can provide perspective and help insure that your message isn’t being clouded by bad grammar or sentence structure. I happen to know a really good one.
“There are two typos of people in this world: those who can edit and those who can’t.” ~Jerod Kintz