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with Mark Allen

Every other Tuesday

Style question of the year is Black and White

Publications nationwide have decided recently to capitalize the racial identifier Black. The more difficult question has been what to do about white?


The descriptive terms generally haven't been capitalized, although the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association has said uppercase both racial terms for the past three editions at least. The Chicago Manual of Style, in typical CMOS style, has acknowledge that both styles are fine. AP Stylebook has previously said to lowercase both.


In June, AP Stylebook decided to start capitalizing Black, and in July, it decided to leave white lowercase for now.


I wrote about capitalizing Black for the website of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors before the AP (and The New York Times) adopted the capital B. You can read that here. With AP's decision on lowercase white, I added a few thoughts on my blog. Read those thoughts here.


Style decisions should be made close to home, taking into account your audience and your publication's history, personality and objectives. This may be the most important style question you grapple with this year.


What's new

  • The first webinar of the decade from ACES: The Society for Editing was "What's New in Style," a looks at recent style guide changes, including CMOS, APA and AP. The recording is available here.


  • Let me bring your editorial department up to speed on changes in the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association. Check here for a customized presentation.
  • My fourth webinar on using, loving, and sometimes ignoring your style guide took place October 10, 2019, and can offer a video of it for purchase. The Latest In Style: Updates To AP, CMOS And More is a 76 minutes and includes a two-page handout with most of the important updates to the two big style guides.
  • If "they" is singular, does "themself" naturally follow? I wrote about the question in a blog entry.
  • I examine the penultimate paragraph of The Great Gatsby in a blog entry. This is a topic I discuss with my Advanced Copyediting students at UCSD Extension.
  • I ran the American Copy Editors Society national conference in St. Pete, Florida. Resources are on the ACES website.
  • I presented Mnemonize Your Word Choices, a pecha kucha, (20 slides, 20 seconds each) at the ACES 2016. The handout contains dozens of mnemonics.

Questions I am frequently asked

Do I affect the effect or the other way around?

The noun is usually "effect," and "affect" is usually the verb. As verbs, to "affect" is to influence and to "effect" is to bring about, as in "effect change," meaning create change.


Did I lay down or lie down?

You "lay" something. Annoyingly, "lay" also is the past tense of "lie." If you just took a nap, you say "I lay down for a bit."  Many people say "I laid down for a bit," but we usually reserve "laid" for when there is an object involved: "She laid the scissors on the mantel."


Is it ever OK to use "they" to refer to an individual

We do it all the time in speech. In writing, it would sure be useful, wouldn't it? You will find that sticklers stickle, but "they" as a singular, genderless pronoun is gaining acceptance.


Beside or besides? Toward or towards?

"Beside" means physically next to. "Besides" means "other than." They used to be interchangeable, but they've grown distinct. Most -ward words are interchangeable, but Americans tend to leave off the "s" while British English writers tend to leave it on.


If I'm talking about a cat, is it "awe cute"? "aww, cute"?

Awe traditionally is fear, respect, wonder. Awesome things are usually not fear-inducing these days, but as awesome as your cat may be, you are looking for "aw, cute." Some dictionaries accept "aww, cute" for particularly cute cats.

Click for more FAQs

Clarity through copy editing

A good copy editor takes on the  role of reader, making sure the author’s point is understood. A good copy editor helps the author and reader connect.


Knowledge to share

Presentations range from a seven-minute look at confusable words to day-long workshops on writing, copy-editing, grammar, style guides, and other topics. I'm available via webinar or in person.


Writing that makes the point

Projects include researching and writing  marketing documents, business-to-business letters and newsletters, and internal newsletters. I also researched and wrote an institutional history book.

Mark Allen was the first freelance copy editor elected to the executive board of ACES: The Society for Editing, in 2012. He also is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Rates are competitive, and we can chat about your budget and make a plan for what will work best. I can also provide proofreading, formatting, and design services.



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