A Writer’s Primer


Remember that, whilst most writing need not always conform to the standards set for a print publication, there are, nonetheless, still a number of things you should try to remember when composing everything from a blog post, to your magnus opus.

Proofreading: First rule of thumb, always proofread your work. While readers and editors are all well aware that typos happen, make sure your work is as polished and presentable as possible.

Spelling: Most people won’t get upset about US vs British spelling—both are acceptable—but use one or the other.

Grammar:

it’s = it is.
its = belonging to it, used exactly the same way as his or hers.
there = a location, as in: over there, there it is.
their = belonging to them, as in: their house, their car.
they’re = they are, as in: “They’re coming right at us!”
your = belonging to you, as in: your hat, your glove.
you’re = you are, as in “You’re starting to annoy me.”

Punctuation:

  • Terminal period and commas inside closing quotation marks.
  • US-writers use the serial comma, as in: <i>(They publish crime, adventure, and erotica.)</i>
  • Question marks are only used after a direct question.
  • Watch out for excessive use of exclamation points.

Quote marks: Use standard, American-style dialogue format with double quote marks. It’s easier for all concerned.

Scene breaks:

  • Flashbacks and dream sequences should be separated by one blank line above and below.
  • Scene breaks should be indicated by * * * or the hash symbol # with one blank line above and below.

Ellipses:

  • Use ellipses to indicate incomplete sentences or a speaker’s voice trailing off.
  • Use ellipses when presenting one side of a telephone conversation, as in: “Yes?…I think I can but—”
  • Always use three-point, un-spaced ellipses.
  • Capitalize the first word in a complete sentence after ellipses.

Em dashes:

Use an em dash (formed by typing two hyphens, then “ENTER” in Word Docs) to indicate breaks in dialogue and to indicate when one character interrupts another’s speech. No spaces should appear before or after an em dash.

Italics:

  • Use to indicate internal monologue.
  • Italicize the names of specific ships and other vessels, such as Apollo 13.
  • Italicize unfamiliar foreign words and phrases.

Abbreviations:

  • Spell out percent, degrees in running text.
  • U.S. and D.C. except in addresses.
  • Spell out state names in running text.

That/Which:

Try to avoid — Susan painted a sun, which was yellow / Susan painted the sun that was yellow.

Try for — Susan painted a yellow sun.

Numbers: Spell out numbers in dialogue, unless they have decimals.

Blond/Blonde: Use blonde as a feminine noun only.

  • She was blonde.
  • She had blond hair.

Specific Words:

  • All right; e-mail; good-bye; good night; Internet; Web site; fax.
  • Afterward / Backward / Forward / Toward — No “s” at the end.
  • Also is an adverb, not a conjunction.
  • Charismatic, eyes are not charismatic, people are.
  • Earth, as in referring to a body in the solar system: “We spotted Earth from the surface of the moon.”
  • Earth’s orbit, but earth when talking about soil.
  • e.g. and i.e. both take a comma, as in e.g., / i.e.,
  • e.g., = for example; i.e., =  that is to say.)
  • Emigrant is one who leaves a country.
  • Enormity does not mean “enormousness”; it is used in the “enormity of the crime”.
  • Dilemma, as in choice, not a problem.
  • Immigrant is someone who comes into a country.
  • Nonetheless, is all one word.
  • Onto indicates motion as in getting on top of; you hold on to something. “On to” also means “proceeding,” as in, “The elevator opened on to the fourth floor.”
  • Use farther to indicate physical distance and further to indicate time.
  • For “whom” the bell tolls. Please, if you have to use the word whom, make sure you know in what context.

And there you have it, it’s all as clear as mud.

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6 Comments

  1. Very useful tips, I often still struggle to know whether I’m actually using UK or US spelling (center vs centre or colour vs color). I admit I might be a bit lazy checking too and I’m sure I use both on and off ;-).

    • Alexandra
      August 13, 2019
      Reply

      I don’t think anyone worries about a blog post whether a word is US or UK too much, Inge, as we all make mistakes. I think the two languages are merging anyway, as we all read more internationally these days.

  2. August 11, 2019
    Reply

    I kinda wanna print this post and hang it up in my office 😀 😀

    • August 11, 2019
      Reply

      I have all these printed out and in a folder that I can flip through when I’m having a brain fart. It never hurts to have a print copy! 😀

  3. August 10, 2019
    Reply

    I don’t plan on publishing a book Alexandra but these are very useful advices here!

    • August 11, 2019
      Reply

      I just wanted anyone who writes, to have access to the list, as I find it extremely helpful regardless of whether I’m writing a novel, or just a blog post, Sophie.

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