Dashes—specifically, en dashes and em dashes—are like hyphens, but longer. And though there’s some overlap in how hyphens and dashes are used, dashes play a role all their own.
I don’t like to dither over style choices. At the beginning of a sentence, it’s routine to start the next word with a capital letter. But when I type a colon within a sentence, I often have to stop and think about how to write the next word: whether to cap it isn’t always obvious.
Variant spellings take a toll on editors everywhere. The minutes tick away whenever we leave our documents (as we often do) in search of the answer to that age-old question: What’s the preferred spelling of this word?
Periods are small but powerful. Not only do they bring entire sentences to a stop with a single dot, they’re also commonly found in abbreviations and numbers.
From our own reading, most of us know that some paperback and hardcover novels have a table of contents page in the front and some don’t. Lurking online, I perceive a widespread notion that tables of contents are old-fashioned and pointless for fiction.
One of my favorite MS Word tricks allows a novelist (or any book writer) to view and organize their chapters in the Navigation pane (an option under the View tab). Using this feature, I can see all my chapter titles at a glance, and I can go instantly to the one I want by clicking on its title.
William Germano is professor of English at Cooper Union in New York. He’s also had a long career in publishing and brings some of that experience to his work as a teacher, in seminars and workshops worldwide and in the college classroom.
Italics can be applied for various reasons, but it is always with the same goal: to mark text as different in some way. This difference can be a matter of emphasis, or it can indicate the title of a book or movie or other work, the scientific name of a species, or the name of a court case, among other things.
Commas play at least two main roles in ordinary prose. They can set off words, phrases, and clauses—including direct quotations, questions, and thoughts—from the surrounding sentence. And they can be used between coordinate adjectives and other items in a series.
The comma between city and state—or, following the same principle, between city and province or city and country—is so thoroughly inscribed in the written record that most editors don’t give it a second thought.