Pro Tip Tuesday #21: Three little things to check for consistency

When your writing is being prepared for publication, a copyeditor will (hopefully!) catch any formatting mistakes or inconsistencies, but it’s worth making sure that the manuscript you submit is as clean as possible—that allows the copyeditor to focus on other issues, and it should reduce the number of errors that will inevitably slip through. Here are three little things to pay attention to:

1. Date formats

The Chicago Manual of Style (9.31) gives two standard formats for writing dates:

  • May 23, 2023
  • 23 May 2023

If your publisher’s house style has a preference for one or the other, use that; if not, pick the one you prefer and use it consistently, except in any quotations that happen to use the other format. Note that with the first one, there should be commas both before and after the year (see CMOS 6:38), while the second format only has a comma after it if the sentence otherwise calls for it.

2. Centuries—numerals vs. words

Writing out centuries in words (fifth century, nineteenth century, etc.) is the standard CMOS format, but some publishers prefer or allow numerals (5th century, 19th century). Here too, the format should be the same throughout your manuscript, but if a quotation uses the other one, leave it the way it is. If you’re using numerals, try to be consistent about whether or not the ordinal suffixes are in superscript or not (Word often applies the superscript by default; CMOS 9.6 says not to). See also the “century” section of the CMOS hyphenation guide (7.89).

3. Dash style

For dashes as punctuation within a sentence (rather than in number ranges, etc.), there are two standard formats:

  • an em dash (the longer one) with no spaces around it: like—this
  • an en dash (the shorter one) with a space on either side: like – this

The em dash is more common among US publishers, and the spaced en dash is more common in the UK (see CMOS 6.83 and 6.85). If you consistently use one dash format rather than a mix of the two, it will be easier to change them to the other format if that’s the publisher’s house style.

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