Most editors encounter at least the occasional symbol in the documents they edit, so it’s good to know a little bit about them. Thanks to Unicode, it’s easy to find out a symbol’s name—which can help you figure out whether it’s the right one in the right context.
Ellen Jovin is a cofounder of Syntaxis, a communication skills training firm based in New York City. The author of several books for business professionals, she has a BA in German studies from Harvard and an MA in comparative literature from UCLA.
People who work in publishing have their own vocabulary, including many terms related to printing, typesetting, and design. You’ll find some of these terms in the glossary at the back of CMOS. How many do you know?
Quotation marks, or “quotes” for short, like to work in pairs. But they’re not all the same. They can be double or single, left or right, curly or straight. Part of an editor’s job is to know which marks to use in which context—and to make sure they’ve been used consistently.
Parentheses and brackets (specifically, square brackets) normally come in pairs, as do other types of brackets and braces. Their main job is to set things off from their surroundings.
Apostrophes, like quotation marks, hang out far above the baseline, where they have two main roles: contraction and possession. They also occasionally have a third role: as a marker of the plural.
Copyeditors typically work in a word-processed manuscript, making and suggesting changes directly in the document. Proofreaders come in at a later stage, after the manuscript has been converted and formatted for publication in a program like Adobe InDesign.
Semicolons, when they’re not winking at you, can be a useful punctuation mark. Some writers are fans of the mark; others could do without it. But whatever you think of semicolons, it can be helpful to know how they’re used.
The punctuation mark that many of us know as the slash appears on standard computer keyboards. But even though it sits right there next to the period and the comma—and though it was once used as a form of sentence punctuation like those marks—the slash is comparatively uncommon today in ordinary prose.
We hate to do this, but the next paragraph is going to contain errors. Microsoft Word won’t catch any of them. How many can you count?