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The New York Times Style: Fine Distinctions beyond the Newsroom

The New York Times Style: Fine Distinctions beyond the Newsroom

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Billed as “the official style guide used by the writers and editors of the world’s most authoritative news organization,” the 2015 edition of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage contains hundreds of changes made since the 2002 edition, increasing its usefulness to non-NYT writers and editors.The New York Times strives for impartial and specific language and is careful to avoid nuances that might be perceived as biased. Therefore, it recommends sect, not cult; concluded, not determined; avoid, not evade; change, not reform. Less-wordy constructions are preferred—The project will cost $X to $Y, not The project will cost between $X and $Y—but sometimes words are added or retained for the sake of clarity, as with using an article before each parallel noun in a series or a pair. The manual’s rulings on hopefully and split infinitives land in the traditionalists’ camp; however, its sensitivity to jargon, triteness, euphemisms, and redundancy provides insight into artful writing.
NYT style can be adapted as a supplement to AP style.
Its dictionary of choice is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, also the official reference for The Associated Press Stylebook. Unlike AP style, though, NYT style is not restricted to symbols transmittable over wires. With its guidance on italics, brackets, accent marks, and bullets, NYT style can be adapted as a supplement to AP style when transmission is unimportant. In addition to weighing in on popular tech terms (e.g., it discourages Google, tweet, and friend as verbs), it takes a stand on some matters where AP style remains silent, such as avoiding inner city for being euphemistic and inaccurate. In fact, the rationale behind its decisions is the most valuable part of the guide. Copyeditors will delight in parsing its fine distinctions—due to and because of, about and nearly—and learn to communicate more effectively, regardless of audience or industry.
Consistency vs. Flexibility

Consistency vs. Flexibility

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

In The Gregg Reference Manual, William A. Sabin said this of applying one style to all circumstances: “It is the impoverished person who meets every situation with the same set of clothes.” Copyeditors are charged with enforcing consistency, but new editors have a tough time knowing when to be flexible.
Adopting a hybrid style is often the solution.
We can manipulate style to bring out the best in each type of project without abandoning house style. In theory, the ideal is to follow one style with broad application. When people ask me which style to use across different media, they’re hoping for one style for everything—websites, brochures, press releases, blog posts, and so on.In reality, adopting a hybrid style is often the solution. One option is to use Chicago style for company materials, Chicago with AP-style punctuation for websites and e-books, and AP style for press releases.
Avoid forcing uniformity when the result will be awkward, distracting, or ineffective.
Factors that influence style departures go beyond assessment of words on a page. Copyeditors can be purely pragmatic and choose rules that are easier to learn or are more deadline friendly. Other reasons to deviate from established style include aesthetics, a desire to control an element’s prominence, a glaring overuse of a style rule in certain passages, and limitations that make the existing style unsustainable.On an invitation, you might capitalize occupational titles where you would not in a press release. In a magazine ad, you might omit periods after calls to action where you would not in a magazine article. The intention is to avoid forcing uniformity when the result will be awkward, distracting, or ineffective in that particular situation.As copyeditors, we have a wealth of options for controlling how ideas are presented and consumed. It’s more realistic to strive for consistency within one context, one article, one series. Be willing to change style when another is more appropriate for the effect you want.
What’s in a Logo?

What’s in a Logo?

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Applying style to a trademark, brand, or company name is tricky when it’s not obvious what the company itself thinks. Are those caps decorative? What if self-references in the text are styled like the logo or nothing jibes? Resolve to be accurate and consistent in the face of rampant creativity with these practical tips.First, be clear about which name you are researching: product, brand, store, website, subsidiary company, or parent company? For example, Lionsgate is a brand and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. is the corporation.
Don’t expect the logotype design to mirror the name; it’s art, more or less.
Don’t expect the logotype design to mirror the name; it’s art, more or less. For example, it’s macy*s in the logo but Macy’s in textual self-references. And logos often change, while the names do not. Maybe you don’t care if it’s AP, Associated Press, or The Associated Press, but pin down the name before styling it. For trademarks, The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style recommend consulting dictionaries, USPTO, and INTA. For formal company names, AP points to NYSE, Nasdaq, or SEC filings, while Chicago refers you to “a corporate website or other authoritative source.” Of course, check the style guides themselves, too.If corroboration is lacking between outside sources and self-references in the copyright, legal language, or running text, look for clues on key website sections (e.g., About page) as well as press releases.
Owners, ironically, aren’t always that familiar with their own properties and often perpetuate branding inconsistencies.
Don’t give too much weight to one iteration when the spelling, punctuation, or cap style could be a contribution from, say, the web developer. Owners, ironically, aren’t always that familiar with their own properties and often perpetuate branding inconsistencies. Interpret decorative elements, such as asterisks and bullets, on a per-logo basis.At some point, investigate popular usage via Google, especially by mainstream media. Choose a style with enough integrity to be sustained across a wide range of applications, and write it down.
Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence

Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

As a reader of Macworld, I am accustomed to reading sentences and headlines that start with iPhone or iPad—with the lowercase initial letter intact. Though some may consider this a defilement, capitalizing the first word of a sentence, in certain cases, is negotiable.Most language guides recommend recasting the sentence so that brand and company names with a lowercase initial letter are tucked away, but this isn’t always practical. In real life, you have space limitations, touchy clients, grammar-doubting bosses, and expectations to “clean up” an unedited piece that has already been laid out and approved.
Awkward cases support the need for more give.
Thankfully, language guides usually provide an “in case you can’t reword” option. As expected, many default to capitalization, including The Associated Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual, and The Yahoo! Style Guide. However, according to Chicago, brand or company names spelled with a lowercase letter followed by a capital, like eBay or the i– prefixed trademarks by Apple, “need not” be capitalized.For headline style, some guides that veer away from lowercase sentence beginnings support retaining a brand’s or company’s lowercase initial letters within a headline (e.g., Gregg, Yahoo! Style): Protect Your iCloud. For all-cap headlines, Chicago recommends overriding the lowercase letter, and Macworld capitalizes every letter but the lowercase letter (iOS CENTRAL).Further complicating capitalization is the use of figures, which many of us have been trained to spell out (and capitalize) when starting a sentence. AP Stylebook has long made years an exception to this rule (1967 was the Summer of Love). But what about 3M? 7-Eleven? A generic abbreviation, like 3D?Awkward cases support the need for more give. Otherwise, you may find yourself equally dismayed by sentences leading with IOS, K. d. lang, or Three-D.
Punctuating Style in CMOS 17: What’s New with Colons, Commas, Dashes, and Slashes

Punctuating Style in CMOS 17: What’s New with Colons, Commas, Dashes, and Slashes

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Since breaking news of the 17th edition, out in September, The University of Chicago Press has revealed some major revisions to The Chicago Manual of Style. Among the previews: lowercasing internet, dropping the hyphen in email, adding alt text to the manual for accessibility, improving keywords for searchability, expanding source citations to cover social media, and accepting themself to refer to a singular antecedent (as in they bought themself a book on quotations). Punctuation guidelines have also undergone a few tweaks, and though not nearly as controversial as going from e-mail to email, the following updates introduce new rules or clarify old ones for added finesse and flexibility.
The following updates introduce new rules or clarify old ones for added finesse and flexibility.

Colons

  • When introducing a list or series, the words preceding the colon no longer need to be a grammatically complete sentence if the verb is understood: New: metadata, abstracts, and keywords.

Commas

  • Reword the sentence when the serial comma causes ambiguity. When the serial comma might be misread as framing an appositive, one solution is to repeat the conjunction: Instead of she drove her wife, the teacher, and her mother, use she drove her wife and the teacher and her mother.
  • Use a comma after “etc.,” “et al.,” and “and so forth” only if required by the surrounding text. Instead of setting these terms off with a pair of commas according to the previous recommendation, treat them as equivalent to the final element in a series: The editor donated a dozen outdated reference books (without removing dog-ears, pencil marks, sticky notes, etc. from the pages).
  • Capitalize the first word of a direct question not enclosed in quotation marks when it follows a comma. Another departure from previous editions, this guideline makes this category of question analogous to a direct quotation: He wondered, Should I track changes?
  • It’s not necessary to precede the adverbs “too” and “either” with a comma when used in the sense of “also” at the end of a sentence. They couldn’t make the deadline either. The printer was down too.
  • In correspondence, a greeting containing a direct address requires two punctuations: a comma in the direct address and a colon or comma after the greeting.

Welcome, readers: . . . Hi, Laura, . . .

But in casual correspondence, the direct-address comma is often omitted.

Hi Erin, . . .

Visit CMOS Shop Talk for Chicago style–related news, advice, and quizzes.

Em Dashes

  • In printed publications, break the line after an em dash, not before. But when another punctuation mark immediately follows the dash, like in this example, keep the elements together:

“I’m saving my edits before I—” the student said as the computer froze.

En Dashes

  • In printed publications, break the line after an en dash, not before. But if it pushes a single character to the next line, such as part of a number range or a score, keep the elements together.
  • An en dash with a space before and after may be used instead of an em dash in running text. Primarily a British style, an en dash as em dash is preferred by many U.S. publishers and writers.

Slashes

  • In printed publications, break the line after a slash, not before. But if it pushes a single character to the next line (such as when it is part of a two-year span) or splits a fraction, keep the elements together. This new rule doesn’t apply to poetry line breaks (break before or after) or URLs (break before).

Multiple Punctuation Marks

  • Except in formal prose, a question mark can be combined with an exclamation point to “express excitement or disbelief.” Are we another step closer to adopting the interrobang?!
Visit CMOS Shop Talk for Chicago style–related news, advice, and quizzes.

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