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Compounds Ending with a Preposition or Adverb: Open, Hyphenated, or Solid?

It seems as if I’m always rifling through my reference books to check whether a compound is open, hyphenated, or solid in a particular style. Movie goer, movie-goer, or moviegoer? There is no consistency, no logic apparent to the naked mind . . . or is there?

Nope. Not much. Sorry for getting your hopes up. Where a compound term lands in its journey toward becoming one word is arbitrary with a capital F-U.

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Slashes: Uses and Restrictions

Misunderstood. Abused. Ignored.

No, not me. Well, maybe that, too, but I’m referring to the beleaguered slash, which you may know as a diagonal, virgule, solidus, slant, stroke, oblique stroke, separatrix, shilling mark, or forward slash (that low-self-esteem retronym which seeks to distinguish the slash [/] from the backslash [\]).

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Numbers: Spell Out or Use Numerals? (Number Style 101)

Numbers take up their own planet in the style universe, so let’s explore it one mountain at a time. This post covers the basic rules and the basic exceptions. (They’re like siblings, I tell ya.) After we get the fundamentals out of the way, we can move on to fun subcategories, such as money and measurements!

Here’s a little number warm-up to get your brains up and running.

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Em Dashes and Ellipses: Closed or Spaced Out?

You might be wondering why I’ve paired the em dash with the ellipsis. Doesn’t the em dash usually get grouped with the en dash and the hyphen? Or, less commonly, with the comma, the colon, and the parenthesis? Sure . . . but those set you up for a discussion on usage, not style. (Please consult your favorite grammar book or blog for notes on usage.) If you look at these marks with style in mind, the ellipsis is most similar to the em dash.

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State Abbreviations: Use Traditional or Go Postal?

In this quick guide to state abbreviations, I will cover the differences between AP style and Chicago style and—just to prolong your state of confusion—when to use the common two-letter abbreviations created by the United States Postal Service.

If you’re writing a research paper or dashing off a blog post, you can probably ignore all the exceptions and special cases and just lean on these basic guidelines:

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Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Remember the days when your manual typewriter didn’t have a key for the number 1, so you used a lowercase letter L instead? And to type an exclamation point, you typed an apostrophe first, backspaced, and then typed a period beneath it? Sure you do, punk.

Clarification: I’m not that old; my high school was poor. We pasted our newspaper dummies together with wax and made type changes with a dull razor.

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Capitalization After Colons: One Sentence or More?

Understandably, many editors are confused about when to capitalize the element directly following a colon. The strategy I happen to use is pretty brain-free, which is to say that it follows AP style. Lucky for us, AP and Chicago agree on one thing before they part ways.

AP (p. 366): Lowercase the first word unless it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.

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Initials: Tips for Remembering Style

You’d think that a post covering initials would be about seven words long, but, as always, Chicago has a lot to say.

Chicago: Periods, space! Except when . . . crap.

• L. R. R. Hood (10.12)
• FDR (initials used alone, 8.4)

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Different Goals, Different Styles: Why AP and Chicago Are Not Friends

AP and Chicago have very clear yet conflicting intentions, often producing diametrically opposed styles.

If I think of AP as governing “fast content” (newspapers, online articles) and Chicago as governing “slow content” (books, some periodicals), you can see how the different styles grew from different needs.

Main differences in concerns and goals:

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The Serial Comma: Lovers and Haters

Ah, the serial comma: to do or not to do. In this example, which is correct?

• I like to pet kittens, puppies and bunnies.
• I like to pet kittens, puppies, and bunnies.

Before fists start flying, let me say that, in my experience, there’s a clear divide between two camps regarding use of a comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more items.

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