A Matter of Style
Final Eyes offers this style guide to help you identify and address common mistakes and how to correct them. Compiled from Barbara’s considerable experience with writers and designers, these perceptive and useful tips about grammar, punctuation, typography, and design principles are a valuable resource for both the novice and the expert. While other sites may ask a subscription fee, the Final Eyes collaborative philosophy means that these pointers are freely shared.
Internet termsFollowing Wired magazine’s lead, I prefer to use lowercase letters for internet and web. I also make email one word without a hyphen and website one word, lowercase, no space.
i.e. vs e.g.Use i.e. (preceded and followed by a comma) to mean “that is.” Use e.g. (also preceded and followed by a comma) to mean “for example.”
What about that?Back in the late ’60s/early ’70s, professors at American universities started telling their students not to use “that” in their writing. Their students took them literally and “that” has been dispatched whenever possible ever since. But “that” is still a useful linking word that allows sentences to make better sense and read more fluidly. Students—who sometimes see only in black and white, rather than in subtle shades of gray—came to believe “that” was an evil little word that should NEVER be used. But it still has its place. Below are two examples. The first shows how “that” would have made the sentence clearer, and the second shows what professors were talking about when they told students to rid their copy of “that.”
EXAMPLE ONE: “A press release by ACLU announcing the deaths resulted from torture was immediately picked up by Associated Press (AP) wire service.” This sentence makes the reader initially think the press release resulted from torture. A “that” between “announcing” and “the” would have allowed the sentence to be initially understood instead of requiring two readings.
EXAMPLE TWO: “He promised that he would never use the word ’that’ again” would be cleaner as “He promised he would never use the word ’that’ again.”
Now that’s what they were referring to when they said “get rid of ’that’!”
ImpostrophesThe minute you flow a Word document into an InDesign file, do a file search for quote marks and apostrophes and replace them with the same. This will automatically convert any straggling “impostrophes” to authentic typographer’s marks.
In defense of the series commaattributed to an email from my son, David.
Hi, Mama—Scott Simon interviewed Michael Ondaatje this morning, and his new book sounded interesting, so I came to the Borders in Glendale to look at it. The first chapter is called “Anna, Claire, and Coop.”Yes! Clarity is not the only reason to use a series comma but honor, as well—honoring each element in the series!
Usually a series comma comes across like a loping pedestrian who stops suddenly mid-street on a busy crosswalk, clogging foot traffic for a moment before finally moving forward again. Sentences without a series comma flow across the street safely and sensibly just as the crosswalk’s red hand starts blinking.
But in this case, it seems like a stylistic choice, meant to give each character equal presence and autonomy. An exception that proves the rule?
Double spacesWe never listened to our teachers about anything—did we? Except double spacing between sentences! Not since periods came into common usage (around the late 1700s) have we needed two spaces between sentences. But tell that to your typing teacher!