Styles Change

Do you worry about what you capitalize and hyphenate?

by Andy Scheer

For hardcore word nerds, there’s big news from Chicago. When they heard it at the recent meeting of the American Copy Editors Society, people cheered.

An editor with the Chicago Manual of Style said their seventeenth edition, to release this fall, will advise that Internet be lowercased, not capitalized. And e-mail should no longer be hyphenated.

While this shouldn’t affect how you write, it may affect how you edit your work — or how your editor does.

The decision about which terms should be capitalized and how they should be punctuated is known as style. As with clothing, style for writing gradually changes. Terms that were once new, like the Internet (remember the “Information Superhighway”) become commonplace. Eventually, there’s no need to treat them as a proper noun.

In response to the way people treat information, the Chicago Manual of Style issues new guidelines for how books should capitalize, punctuate, and cite references. Likewise, the Associated Press periodically revises their AP Stylebook for newspapers and magazines.

So if you want to please your editor, begin to leave Internet lowercase and forget the hyphen in e-mail. But chances are, that’s how you already write. If so, don’t worry. Your editor hasn’t been shocked.

The key, when you self-edit, is simply to be consistent: always spell out numbers less than 100, always use a comma before and in a series, and never abbreviate the state after a city. Or always do it the other way.

It’s part of an editor’s job to fuss about style. But as a writer, your main job is to convey your information in a way that’s compelling and clear. If you can do that with consistent, contemporary style, all the better.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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