An Editing FAQ For Myself


Q: What’s this?

A: When I find the answer to an editing or language question I’ve had as a writer, I’ll add it here, along with very informal citations (links, names of books, any other relevant info) in case I need to find it later. I’m designing this as a reference sheet for myself, but hopefully it’ll be helpful to other writers and newbie editors too!

There are two sections: first, questions to which I’ve found answers, then ones whose answers I haven’t yet discovered. I’m a newbie editor but not a newbie writer, so I have a few of the latter already, though they’re hard to remember on the spot.

For questions I haven’t answered, if you can write the answer and offer a source in the comments, that would be welcome! Please detail how you’d like to be credited for your contribution. Blog URLs and Twitter handles are certainly acceptable, although if you request these, I’ll check them to make sure you’re a nice person before using your submission, simply because I don’t want to support or endorse someone engaging in jerky behavior (unless smoked meats are involved). I don’t expect to have much of a problem with this, though.

Similarly, if you have questions you’d like to add to the list, please comment with those too! It’s okay if you struggle with grammar, English isn’t your first language, or you just think your question is basic; submit it anyway. If I get enough questions that are, let’s say, less obscure than the ones I’m tracking here, I’ll write a separate FAQ for them so they don’t get buried.


Answered Questions


Q: Compound adjectives: the lack of clarity regarding what’s included in the hyphenated phrase always bugged me. I get the impulse to hyphenate the whole thing or use quotation marks or italics or something, even though those look wrong.

A: It bugs editors too, which is why you’re supposed to use an en dash instead: a punctuation mark previously not on my radar.

Source: EFA’s recorded webinar, Introduction to ‘The Chicago Manual of Style,’ about 25 minutes in.

The example used:

Wrong: “New York-style pizza”

Correct: “New Yorkstyle pizza”

This satisfies my nitpicky nerd heart, probably more than it has any right to.


Q: What’s the correct reflexive form of singular they?

A: At least one author uses “themself” (as opposed to “themselves”), as in “This cup keeps your child from spilling their drink on themself” or “Jamie said they don’t know what to do with themself now that they’re done with university.”

Source: CMOS Shop Talk article “Gender-Neutral Pronouns in Creative Writing” by Carol Saller. The author referenced is Sarah Gailey.


To Be Answered


Q: When you italicize a phrase, which surrounding punctuation marks do you also italicize, and when? For example, if you have a parenthetical, and part of the enclosed phrase (either at the beginning or the end, next to one of the parentheses) belongs in italics, does that parenthesis get italicized too? (I usually say yes, because otherwise it just looks wrong.)

A: TBA. It’s probably somewhere in CMOS.


Q: How do you type an en dash? I typically use two hyphens for an em dash, and sometimes the word processor fixes it for me; is that wrong? Do you pull up the Special Characters menu every time? Do certain typefaces not include this character?

A: TBA. My Grammar Lab class at UCSD might cover these later. (Also, there are several questions here, but I’m leaving them grouped because they’re related.)


This is a living reference document, so I’ll be updating it as I find new things to add. Let me know in the comments if you found it helpful, have questions of your own, or want to contribute answers! I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

May your pencil leads never break!

– Rebekah


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