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When I get time, I listen to music, or read books. If any is left, I blog!

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Style Sheet


English enjoys official or special status in seventy-five countries with a population of over two billion. It is the second language to around 375 million people and foreign language to nearly double that number. Thus, one out of four of the world’s population is estimated to speak English to some level of competence.

And English is growing, borrowing extravagantly from other languages to coin and combine new words and meanings. Ancient linguistic rules and conventions have given way to diverse regional dialects and styles.

This STYLE SHEET is intended to lessen the resultant confusion, at the same time ensure stylistic consistency in your documents. One way may often be as good as another, but if everyone does things the same way, it will be easy to write and express, and a lot more easy to read and understand.

Bear in mind, no style sheet is 100 per cent accurate or complete. It takes several revisions to achieve perfection. A beginning has been made here. As you use it, send in your suggestions. Together, let us build this into a ready and reliable reference guide.
Punctuation Marks

While speaking, we pause, stop or change the tone of our voice to emphasise and clarify what we mean. In writing, we miss this advantage. Hence, to make the written text sensible, we resort to using a variety of punctuation marks. They are like traffic signals alerting readers to identifiable units of the text. Innocuous they may look, but its usage often raises doubts in our minds.
  • Comma ( , )
    Separates the items in a list of words, phrases or clauses:
    If you listen to me, concentrate and think, you will understand this lesson.

    Separates an adverbial clause or a long phrase from the main clause:
    When the sun is shining and the birds are singing, the world seems a happier place.

    Use it in a sentence that begins with a non-finite or verb-less clause:
    To reach the office on time, she left an hour early.

    Separates an introductory / traditional phrase (By the way, Therefore, However etc.):
    As it happens, however, the witness turned hostile.

    Separates a dependent clause that interrupts the sentence:
    The fire, burning for the last two days, was still blazing fiercely.

    Use it before and after a non-defining relative clause or a phrase giving extra information about the noun it follows:
    Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, was first climbed in 1953.

    Use it to join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction:
    He was to go trekking, but could not because of rain.

    Separates a question tag or similar phrase from the rest:
    It’s quite expensive, isn’t it?

    Separates discourse markers from the words spoken, except when using a question or exclamation:
    ‘That’s all I know’, he said.
    ‘That’, he said, is all I know.’
    He said, ‘That’s all I know.’

    Speech within speech is introduced by a comma and closed by quotation marks:
    'When the judge said, ‘Not guilty’, I was relieved'.

    In a group of items, use the comma to separate the items, but not etc.
    Table, Chair, Pen, Pencil etc.
  • Colon ( : )
    Used after a term describing a group or a linking phrase:
    Do it this way: read, write and memorise.
  • Semicolon ( ; )
    Use it to separate parts of a sentence that already has commas:
    She wished to be successful, whatever it might cost; wanted to succeed, whoever might suffer.
  • Exclamation ( ! )
    Use it to end a sentence expressing anger or surprise. (Do not add a period to it.):
    What a movie!
  • Hyphen or Dash ( - )
    Use it instead of a colon or semicolon to indicate a conclusion:
    You have cheated me – how can I trust you again?

    Use it to separate extra information or comment from the rest of the sentence:
    Winter here – contrary to what you think – can be very cold.
  • Hyphens & Compound words
    Hyphens are needed to clarify the sense:
    The phrase crude oil production statistics needs a hyphen to tell the reader whether ‘crude’ applies to the oil or to the statistics.

    Usually run together prefixes, except where the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter of the word to which it attaches:
    Pre-empt ; Part-time ; Re-election ; Re-entry
    Exception: Where double ‘r’ appears in the middle:
    Override ; Overrule ; Granddaughter

    Numbers take hyphens when spelt out; fractions too, but not when used as nouns:
    Twenty-eight ; Two-thirds
    An increase of two-thirds
  • Slash or Oblique ( / )
    Use it to separate alternative words or terms:
    Single/Married/Divorced/Widowed (Delete whichever is not applicable)
  • Italics
    Use it less for emphasis, but more with uncommon, non-anglicised words:
    Rang Panchami is a festive occasion in India.
  • Quotations
    Use single quotation marks (') for quotations within a main quotation:
    He clarified, 'When I talked to the farmers last week, they said, "We refuse to use pesticides.'".
  • Apostrophe ( ’ )
    Use it to indicate the possessive:
    Horse’s ears ; Princess’s ring
    Exception: With plural nouns and with names where the final “s” is soft:
    Women’s (not Womens’) ; Children’s (not Childrens’)
    Archimedes’ principle ; Achilles’ heel
  • Parentheses or Brackets ( ) & [ ]
    Use it to separate extra information or comment from the rest of the sentence:
    Mt. Everest (8850 metres) is the tallest peak.

    Use square brackets to reveal an error as in the original (which is not yours):
    'The minister’s letter was an appeal to his ‘fiends [sic] and fellow citizens’”. – Times

    Use it to enclose interpolations in a quotation, or to complete missing detail:
    'Post independence, nowhere else has Gandhiji been as sensibly portrayed as in Dutt’s movie [Munnabhai]'.

    To enclose cross references, numbers or letters Our goal is to (1) increase quality, (2) improve readability and (3) maximize sales.
  • Capitals
    Begin proper names, formal titles, names of reputed institutions etc. in upper case:
    The Prime Minister ; Minister ; Lt. General
    Member of Parliament ; Human Resource Management

    Use lower case for non-specifics:
    A management practice
  • Titles and Headlines
    For added emphasis, capitalise all words other than prepositions and conjunctions: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Full stop or Period
    Use a Period after an abbreviation. Avoid it, if it comes at the end of a sentence:
    etc. Discontinue using a Period between/after initials in a proper name. Well-known Acronyms too do not need Periods in between:
    Mr. A S Hornby ; Mrs. Preeti P Patel ; Dr. Mistry

    Place full stop outside the inverted commas, irrespective of whether they relate to the words quoted or to the main sentence.
    'When the judge said, ‘Not guilty’, I was relieved.”
    She is attending classes in “health and beauty”.

    Do not use periods to end numbered or bulleted points in a list of items: The agenda for next week's meeting shall be as follows:
    1. Review of weekly performance2. Bottlenecks and solutions
    3. Planning for the coming week
  • AD & BC
    AD comes before; BC comes after. With century, both are used after:
    AD 935 ; 350 BC ; 850 BC ; 1950 AD
  • Dots (…) /Ellipsis (…)
    Use it to indicate a hesitant or interrupted speech, a deliberate omission of a part of the text or an unfinished thought. Always use three dots, leaving a space:
    His dying words were, 'I was ...'
    Give me a break, I mean …
  • Dates
    Be consistent in your style. Do not mix different styles. Stick to one format:
    15 August 1947
  • Time
    Never write 6.00 am in the morning or 6.00 pm last night. Correct version is:
    6.00 am or 6.00 pm or 0600 Hrs or 1800 Hrs
  • Consonant
    If a consonant comes after a short vowel on adding '-ing' or '-ed' to the root verb, double the last letter:
    Travel - Travelling - Travelled - Traveller
    Level - Levelling - Levelled - Leveller
    Refer – Referring – Referred

    Exceptions : Parallel – Paralleled Ø Develop - Developed
    Benefit – Benefiting – Benefited
    Focus – Focusing – Focused
  • ‘-ize’ / ‘-ise’
    Both are correct, but use the more accepted spelling among the two:
    Analyse (Not Analize or Analayze) ; Criticise (Not Criticize)
    Memorise (not Memorize) ; Paralyse (Not Paralyze)
  • '-or' / '–our'
    As in the above case both are correct, but use the more accepted spelling:
    Colour (Not Color) ; Favourite (Not Favorite)
    Honour (Not Honor) ; Programme (Not program)

    Exception: Technical terms or words used in computer programs/language
  • Letter-writing
    Make use of the 'open punctuation' (no comma or fullstop) in letter formats:
Dear Sir
Dear Madam
Yours faithfully

In a proper noun - name of a person - fullstops between the intials can be done away with. Who is talking about periods between generations!
Mr. M R Stephen
Miss. Urvi M Desai
If you enjoyed reading this, and found it helpful, please respond with your suggestions.

Friday 16 March 2007

How To Be A Good Proof-Reader

The first step is to understand the difference between 'Reading' and 'Proof-reading'. 

'Reading' gives us knowledge, information and entertainment. 'Proof-reading' on the other hand is a mechanical process focused more on the medium rather than the message.  Its sole objective is to search out errors and correct them.

Proof-reading is easy, when you know what you are looking for. Error patterns vary from writer to writer. Lookout for errors, and make note of those recurring frequently.

What do you look for?
  1. Incorrect spelling
  2. Missing punctuation
  3. Wrong grammar
  4. Bad sentence structure
  5. Repetition of words, phrases or ideas
  6. Errors of fact
  7. Poor Page formatting
  8. Misalignment of matter and spaces
  9. Wrong references (Page, Picture, Index etc.)
  10. Inconsistency
Common errors in Proof-reading:
  • Spelling mistakes often related to homophones (words which sound the same but are spelt differently as in 'Some' and 'Sum')
  • Misuse/omission of the possessive apostrophe. (Its and It’s)
  • Superfluous vocabulary or redundant verbiage which adds nothing to the meaning ('To meet up with'; 'To miss out on' etc.)
  • Colloquial expressions instead of academic ones. ('Go down' in place of 'Reduce' or 'Decrease')
  • Leaving sentences unfinished or fragmented.
  • Joining two sentences with a comma instead of separating them using a full stop.
  • Getting confused between British and American spellings.
Tips to Good Proof-reading:
  • DO NOT rely on the computer’s spell-check feature. It only checks the spelling, not the contextual aptness of the word. The computer is a mindless machine.  Use your brain to override its inherent shortcomings.
  • Move the cursor along each line of the text being proofread. It helps you see, read and examine carefully.
  • When in doubt, refer to the dictionary.
  • Proof-read at least one hard copy of the text. What you miss on the monitor may show up on paper.
  • Avoid linguistic variations. Stick to any one of the accepted spelling and punctuation conventions. Make sure to set your word processor’s language accordingly.
  • Leave a time gap between two proof-reading sessions. This will help refresh the mind and sharpen your error-spotting abilities.
  • Try proofing upside down - Read your work from the end to the beginning. This destroys the flow of argument and sequencing of ideas in the proof-reader’s mind, thus forcing his brain to mechanically look for errors.
  • Read through slowly, as if you are giving a speech, pausing at appropriate moments to recheck the punctuation.    
  • Check out noun-pronoun usages. A singular pronoun cannot refer to a plural noun or a plural pronoun cannot refer to a singular noun. ('A student needs a library card before they can enter' should be corrected to read: 'A student needs a library card before he or she can enter' or 'Students need library cards before they can enter'.)
  • Watch for repetitions.  Use alternative words or synonyms to avoid this.
  • Train yourself to observe every word in full. The human eye often skims words - that is, we see only parts of words, completing the rest through assumption or from memory.  This is one reason we often fail to spot spelling mistakes.
  • Collaborate with another Proof-reader, and check each other’s work. A second pair of eyes will pick up errors which the first one missed.
Requisites of a good Proof-reader:
  • Right Attitude - Urge to achieve 100% accuracy
  • Concentration - Look for the obvious and the not-so-obvious!
  • Competence - Good knowledge of the language
  • Tenacity - Eagerness to learn and perform better
'Remember, proofreading is not about being an expert writer.  It is more about ensuring that spelling and grammar are correct, a sequence of numbers is in order, there is proper punctuation throughout the text, spacing and fonts are consistent, and that dates and times are accurate'.