5.5: Proofreading for Mechanics

Learning Objectives

Target icon1. Identify and correct spelling errors in draft documents.

2. ENL1813 Course Learning Requirement 1: Plan, write, revise, and edit short documents and messages that are organized, complete, and tailored to specific audiences.

i. Use a systematic approach to edit, revise, and proofread (ENL1813 CLR R5.3)
ii. Edit and proofread documents to eliminate errors (ENL1813 CLRs H1.5, I1.5, M1.6, S1.6, T1.5)
iii. Revise documents to improve clarity, correctness, and coherence (ENL1813 CLRs G1.5, P1.4, R7.4)

The very last target for proofreading as you finalize your draft for submission is mechanics. In English writing, mechanics relates to typographic style such as the choice between UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, italics or boldface type and plain style, as well as using figures (e.g., 1, 2, 3) or written out numbers (e.g., one, two, three). Professionals follow stylistic conventions for mechanics much like they do punctuation rules. If you don’t know these conventions, making them up as you go along may produce unprofessional-looking documents. Consider the following as your guide for how to get your writing mechanics right.

5.5.1: Capitalizing

One of the worst mistakes you can make in a high-priority document like a cover letter is a glaring capitalization error such as not capitalizing the first letter in a sentence or writing “im” or “ive” instead of “I am” or “I have.” These errors are fine when texting your friends. To a hiring manager, however, the red flags they raise concerning the literacy, work ethic, and even maturity of the applicant might land that application in the shredder. At the other typographic extreme, those who use all-caps for anything other than abbreviations, as in “SEND ME THAT REPORT RIGHT NOW,” look emotionally unstable. In normal writing, we use conventional combinations of capitals and lowercase letters meaningfully to guide our readers through our sentences. Let’s take a closer look at when to capitalize and when not to capitalize letters.

5.5.1.1: What to Capitalize

You can’t go wrong if you capitalize in the following situations:

  • First letter of the first word of a:
    • Sentence; e.g. These pretzels are making me thirsty.
    • Full-sentence quotation even if it appears after a signal phrase; e.g., A great American humourist put it best when he said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness(Twain, 1869, p. 333).
    • Rule following a colon in a sentence; e.g., My mother taught me the golden rule: Treat others the way you’d like to be treated yourself
    • Point in a bullet-point or numbered list regardless of whether it’s a full sentence or just a noun phrase, as in this list
  • The first-person personal pronoun “I
  • Major words in titles, including the first letter of the first word no matter what it is, nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, but not short prepositions such as in, of, on, or to, nor coordinating conjunctions such as and, but, for, or so, unless they’re the first word (see Table 5.5.2.1 below for several example titles)
  • The first letter of proper nouns, which include the types given below in Table 5.5.1

Table 5.5.1.1: Proper Nouns

Proper Noun Type Examples
People and professional roles or familial relations preceding the name Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Roberta Bondar, Professor Patrick Grant, Mayor Humdinger, Ludwig van Beethoven, Aunt Pam, God, Buddha
Adjectives derived from names Shakespearean sonnet, Freudian slip
Major buildings and infrastructure CN Tower, the Queensway, the Hoover Dam
Specific geographical locations and regions Ottawa, British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies, Lake Ontario,  the West Coast, Eastern Canada, the Maritimes, South Asia, the Netherlands
Celestial bodies Venus, Earth, Mars, the Sun, the Kuiper Belt, the Milky Way, the Virgo Supercluster
Books, films, etc. (see Table 5.5.2.1 below) Beautiful Losers, Star Wars, The Onion, Overwatch, the Ottawa Citizen
Days of the week, months, holidays Monday, November, Labour Day, Groundhog Day, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Fall 2019 semester
Historical events and periods the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Cold War, the Renaissance, the Old Kingdom, Anthropocene, the Big Bang
Ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and languages Anishinaabe, Australian, English, Russian, Malaysian, Catholic, Islam, Sunni Muslim, Swedish, Swahili
Institutions, political and cultural groups Algonquin College, University of Toronto, the Supreme Court, New Democrats, Montreal Canadiens, Oscar Peterson Trio
Academic courses, programs, departments, and some degrees Statistics 101, Communications I, Game Development Advanced Diploma Program, School of Business, PhD, MBA
Numbered or lettered items Flight AC2403, Gate 11, Invoice No. 3492B, Serial No. D8834-2946-1212, Rural Road 34, Figure 8, Volume 2, Part 4, Model 3
Brand names, corporations, and stores Microsoft Word, Samsung Galaxy, Tesla, Apple, Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Mountain Equipment Co-op

5.5.1.2: What Not to Capitalize

Don’t capitalize the following:

  • Directions if they’re not in a geographical name; e.g., We drove east to North Bay, Ontario, from the Pacific Northwest
  • Professional roles on their own without a name following (e.g. the prime minister) or if they follow the person’s name; e.g., Patrick Grant, professor of English
  • Celestial bodies when used outside of the context of celestial bodies; e.g., He’s really down to earth. I love you to the moon and back. Here comes the sun.
  • The seasons, despite the fact that the days of the week and months are capitalized (e.g., We’re heading south for the winter.) unless they’re part of a title (e.g., Fall 2019 semester)
  • Century numbers; e.g., the nineteenth century
  • Words that came from names or geographical regions; e.g., pasteurize, french fries, italics, roman numerals, arabic numerals
  • Fields of study; e.g., history, biology, physics, economics, dentistry
  • Some academic degrees; e.g., master’s degreebachelor’s degree
  • Citations at the page and line level: page 6, lines 23-27; p. 24, ll. 12-14

What to Look for When Proofreading

Pay close attention to the beginning of sentences, each point in a list, titles, and proper nouns. Determine whether you should capitalize or leave letters lowercase depending on the conventions given above.

Incorrect:    let’s go South to visit the President and stay with vice president Frito.

The fix:    Let’s go south to visit the president and stay with Vice President Frito.

The fix:    Let’s go south to visit President Comacho and stay with Frito, his vice president.

In the drafting process, you might delete the original capitalized opening to a sentence while trying out another style of sentence and forget to capitalize the new beginning. The proofreading stage is when you can catch glaring errors such as this. Also, the convention for geography is to capitalize directions only if they’re part of place names but not when they’re mere compass directions. Finally, capitalize professional titles only when they precede a name.

Incorrect:    In addition, im proficient in the use of Microsoft office, such as Powerpoint.

The fix:    In addition, I am proficient in the use of Microsoft Office, such as PowerPoint.

Texting habits might die hard. A crucial step in professionalizing yourself, however, is to correct informal spellings such as im so that they are the more correct I’m or more formal I am, especially in job application documents. Also, be especially careful with capitalization around proprietary names such as software, which may include internal capitalization as we see in PowerPoint or YouTube.

Incorrect:    I had to read the textbook Communication At Work for my Algonquin college communications course in the accounting program.

The fix:    I had to read the textbook Communication at Work for my Algonquin College Communications course in the Accounting program.

The titling convention is to capitalize major words but not short prepositions such as at. Since academic courses, institutions, and programs are proper nouns like the names of people, capitalize them all.

5.5.1.3: Abbreviations

Fully spell out abbreviations the first time you mention them and put the abbreviation in parentheses. For example, if you were to say, “The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is reporting an above-average number of flue deaths this year,” subsequent mentions of the Agency can appear as simply “PHAC.” Institutions that are so common as names (proper nouns) in their abbreviated form (e.g., CBC, which stands for the “Canadian Broadcasting Corporation”) can be given as abbreviations unless introduced to an audience that wouldn’t know them. As you can see here, avoid adding periods after each uppercase letter in an abbreviation.

For more on capitalization, see the following resources:

5.5.2: Italicizing, Underlining, and Bolding

The standard typeface options of italics, bold, and underline allow writers to draw attention to their text in varying degrees. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage comes from overuse, which diminishes their impact. Taking advantage of their ability to draw the reader’s eye and communicate information beyond the words they express requires following certain conventional uses for each. We’ll start with the most meaningful in terms of the information it can convey.

As the typeface option that slants the top of each letter to the right, italic typeface performs several possible functions related to emphasizing words. Italics can also resolve ambiguities that would cause confusion without it. Use italics for the following purposes:

  • Emphasis: Use italics sparingly to emphasize particular words or phrases; e.g., “I’ve asked them no less than three times to send the reimbursement cheque.” If we were saying this aloud, you would raise your volume and slow down your enunciation to emphasize “three times.” Italicizing is more mature and professionally appropriate than using all-caps to emphasize words.
  • Words under Discussion: Italicize a word, phrase, or even a full sentence when discussing it. For instance, you see throughout this textbook example words italicized, such as just above §5.5.1.1.
  • Foreign Words and Phrases: Italicize foreign words that have not yet become part of the English vernacular. For instance, italicize the binomial Latin name of a species (e.g., branta canadensis for Canada goose) or the French phrase déjà vu but not the more familiar borrowed French words “bourgeois,” “brunette,” “chauffeur,” “cliché,” “depot,” “entrepreneur,” “résumé,” or “souvenir.” If the foreign word is in most English dictionaries, it is probably safe to write it in plain style rather than italics.
  • Titles: Use italics when referring to the title of a longer work such as a book, film, or newspaper. See Table 5.5.2.1 below for a full list of the types of works you would italicize, as opposed to shorter works (or titled sections within longer works) you would put in quotation marks without italics.

Table 5.5.2.1: Italicized Titles

Type of Work Examples
Book, legislation Elements of Style, A Brief History of Time, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great Gatsby, The Copyright Act
Magazine Maclean’s, The Walrus, Chatelaine, MoneySense, Canadian Business, The Hockey News, Today’s Parent, Flare
Newspaper The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Time Colonist
Website (APA) YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram, The Onion
Film Casablanca, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
TV show Dragons’ Den, Hockey Night in Canada, Orphan Black
Play, long poem The Rez Sisters, Romeo & Juliet, Waiting for Godot, Paradise Lost
Album, opera Drake’s Views, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, Mozart’s The Magic Flute
Works of art Mona Lisa, The School of Athens, The Starry Night, Voice of Fire
Video game Tetris, Grand Theft Auto V, Super Mario Bros., Minecraft
Ships, airplanes the Titanic, Bismarck, Hindenburg, Enola Gay
Legal cases Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, Baker v. Canada

When words are already italicized, such as a sentence under discussion or a book title within a book title, then de-italicize the title back into plain style (e.g., Vision in Shakespeare’s King Lear). Exceptions to the rule of italicizing books are holy texts such as the Bible and Koran, though specific editions should be italicized (e.g., The New American Standard Bible).

Underlining is normally an old-fashioned alternative to italicizing because it identified titles written on typewriters before modern word processors made italicization feasible. Today, underlining is mainly used to emphasize words within italicized titles or as an alternative to boldface type.

More than any other typeface, bold is best at emphasizing words because it draws the reader’s eyes more effectively than italics or underlining, especially for document titles and section headings. In casual emails, you can also use it to highlight a main action point that’s surrounded by plain-style text to ensure that the reader doesn’t miss it. Avoid bolding, underlining, italicizing, and using all-caps in combination merely to lend added emphasis to words. Use whichever one is most appropriate in context.

For more on italics, underlining, and bolding, see the following resources:

5.5.3: Numbering

When do you spell out a number (e.g., ten) and when do you use a figure (e.g., 10)? What are the conventions for academic and professional situations? It depends on your purposes, but in routine formal situations and in APA style, spell out numbers from one to ten and use figures for 11 and up. In MLA, spell out any number if it’s only a word or two, but use figures for numbers that require three or more words (Becker, 2014). In informal and technical writing, however, using only figures ensures accuracy, consistency, and brevity. Let’s look at the formal APA conventions in more detail in Table 5.4.3.

Table 5.5.3: Formal Numbering Conventions

Convention Examples
Words only one person, ten reasons
Figures 11 people, 40 cars, 127 hours, 330 lbs. $39.99, 6.12 litres, 68,000 voters, 186,282.397 miles per second.
Large round a hundred people, a thousand times, six billion dollars, $6 billion, $6,300,000, $6.3 million, $2.345 trillion, You have a hundred trillion microbes in your body.
Fractions over two thirds of respondents, 4 millionths of a second, a one-fifth share of the profit, 3/32 allen key, 1 and 21/64 inches
Percentages and decimals 8 percent increase (in formal docs), 8% increase (in business forms and technical docs), 9.57 seconds, .045cm, 0.12g
Beginning of sentences Twenty-six percent of respondents agreed while 71% disagreed.
Days, years July 1, 1867; from the 1st of July to the 4th; AD 1492; from 2000 to 2018; in the 2010-2011 season; the nineties, 1990s, ’90s
Times 8am, noon, 1:15pm, 5-6pm, 10:30-11am, 11:30am-1pm (or …PM)
Addresses One First Street, 2 Second Street, 16 Tenth Avenue, 251 11th Avenue W, 623 East 125th Street
Telephone 613-555-4450 ext. 9832, 250.555.7204, (416) 555-1185
Identification Room 6, Channel 4, Hwy. 416, Elizabeth II, Henry V
Weights and measures Andre weighed over 200 lbs. by age 12 and over 500 lbs. by 40.

The room is 10’ by 12’ in a 2,400 sq. ft. house., 8 metres (in formal docs), 24km (in informal and technical docs)

Ages Little Nicky was 3 years and 7 months when his family moved.

By the time she was thirty-six, Miranda had accomplished plenty.

Miranda, 36, has accomplished plenty.

Pages page 24 / (p. 24), pages 67-68 / (pp. 67-68), (pp. 114-118), chapter 11 / (ch. 11), chapters 11-12 (chs. 11-12)
Commercial and legal The stated amount of $1,200 will be paid no less than two (2) weeks after the completion of the contact work.
Related (all under 10) We bought six shirts, eight pairs of pants, and four jackets.
Related (any 10+) We bought 9 apples, 18 bananas, and 6 pineapples.
Consecutive They ordered twelve 90-lb. weights. We observed twenty-five 500-megaton explosions. I manufactured 14,032 6709T parts for Dynamo, Inc. (When two numbers appear consecutively, generally write out the number for the first and use a figure for the second, but use a figure for the first if it would take more than one or two words to write it out.)

What to Look for When Proofreading

Determine whether you should replace your spelled-out numbers with figures or vice versa according to the conventions given above.

Incorrect:    Only 2 people showed up.

The fix:    Only two people showed up.

In formal writing, spell out one- or two-word numbers rather than use figures lazily. However, feel free to use figures, no matter how small the number, in informal writing where concision matters most.

Incorrect:    She was charged nine-hundred-and-thirty-six dollars and ninety-eight cents for the repair.

The fix:    She was charged $936.98 for the repair.

Incorrect:    The chances of life existing on other planets are quite high if there are, by extrapolation, roughly 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 star systems with earth-like planets in the universe (Frost, 2017).

The fix:    The chances of life existing on other planets are quite high if there are, by extrapolation, roughly 19 billion trillion star systems with earth-like planets in the universe (Frost, 2017).

Incorrect:    23,000 units were sold in the first quarter.

Incorrect:    Twenty-three thousand units were sold in the first quarter.

The fix:    In the first quarter, 23,000 units were sold.

Though you should use a figure to represent a number above ten and spell out a number appearing at the beginning of a sentence, re-word the sentence if that number is more than two words.

Incorrect:    We’ve moved the meeting to 05/04/18.

The fix:    We’ve moved the meeting from Tuesday, April 2, to Friday, April 5, 2018.

The fix:    We’ve moved the meeting from Tuesday the 2nd of April to Friday the 5th, 2018.

Though the above correction sacrifices brevity, the gains in clarity can potentially prevent expensive miscommunication. The correction prevents the message recipients from misinterpreting the new meeting date as being May 4th and helps them pinpoint which date in their calendars to click and drag the original meeting from. Providing the days of the week also helps the recipients determine at a glance whether the new date conflicts with regularly scheduled weekly appointments.

Incorrect:    Let’s meet at number ninety, 6th Avenue, at fourteen o’clock.

The fix:    Let’s meet at 90 Sixth Avenue at 2pm.

Though “ninety” would be correct in some contexts (MLA style) because it is a one-word number, APA address conventions require you to use figures for address numbers and to spell out numerical street/avenue numbers from first to tenth, then to use figures from 11th onward. Also, the English convention for representing time of day is to use the twelve-hour clock, whereas the French convention is to use the twenty-four-hour clock.

Incorrect:    Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?

The fix:    Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four?

Unless the age follows a person’s name as an appositive (e.g., Paul, 64, is losing his hair) or is part of a series that identifies several ages (e.g. a program for those of 4 to 6 years of age, with some 7-year-olds) or combines one person’s age in years and months, spell out ages up to one hundred.

Incorrect:    The one expedition catalogued thirty-four new types of spiders, 662 new types of beetles, and 178 new types of ants.

The fix:    The one expedition catalogued 34 new types of spiders, 662 new types of beetles, and 178 new types of ants.

Though normally you would spell out two-word numbers, maintaining consistency with the related numbers in the series, which are figures here because they are over ten, takes precedence.

Incorrect:    The program has 2 streams, one for the 4-year-olds and another for the 5-year-olds.

The fix:    The program has two streams, one for the 4-year-olds and another for the 5-year-olds.

This looks at first as if all three of these are related numbers in a series and therefore must all be figures. The related-numbers convention applies to only the last two numbers (ages), however, whereas the first number is not an age, hence not part of the series. Since the first number can be spelled out as one word, two, it is not given as a figure.

Incorrect:    If your gym orders more than 20 100-lb. weights, you’ll get every additional unit for half price.

The fix:    If your gym orders more than twenty 100-lb. weights, you’ll get every additional unit for half price.

To avoid “20 100-lb.” being misread as “20100-lb.,” bend the rule about using figures for numbers above ten to spell out the first of the consecutive numbers and use a figure for the second since it’s a weight. (If the first number were more than two words spelled out and the weight only one, however, “150 thirty-pound weights” would be preferable.)

For more on numbers, see the following resources:

Key Takeaway

key iconAt the end of the editing stage, proofread for mechanical errors involving capitalization, typographic style (e.g., italics), and numbers.

 

Exercises

1. Go through the above sections and follow the links to self-check exercises at the end of each section to confirm your mastery of the punctuation rules.

2. Take any writing assignment you’ve previously submitted for another course, ideally one that you did some time ago, perhaps even in high school. Scan for the mechanical errors covered in this section now that you know what to look for. How often do such errors appear? Correct them following the suggestions given above.

References

Becker, D. (2014, June 26). Comparing MLA and APA: Numbers. APA Style. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2014/06/comparing-mla-and-apa-numbers.html

Berry, C. (2018, February 7). Writing numbers. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/593/01/

Berry, C., & Brizee, A. (2013, July 12). A little help with capitals. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/592/01/

Butterick, M. (2013, July 24). Bold or italic. Butterick’s Practical Typography. Retrieved from https://practicaltypography.com/bold-or-italic.html

Darling, C. (2014a). Capitalization. Guide to Grammar & Writing. Retrieved from https://plato.algonquincollege.com/applications/guideToGrammar/?page_id=4513

Darling, C. (2014b). Abbreviations. Guide to Grammar & Writing. Retrieved from https://plato.algonquincollege.com/applications/guideToGrammar/?page_id=4498

Frost, R. (2017, November 15). The number of Earth-like planets in the universe is staggering – here’s the math. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/11/15/the-number-of-earth-like-planets-in-the-universe-is-staggering-heres-the-math/#5db6267f4932

Morgan, M. (2015, May 23). How to use italics. WikiHow. Retrieved from https://www.wikihow.com/Use-Italics

Straus, J. (2015, June 5). Capitalization rules. The Grammar Book. Retrieved from https://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/capital.asp

Twain, M. (1889). The innocents abroad, or The new pilgrims’ progress. Vol. II. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=f4EwNleAjJAC&rdid=book-f4EwNleAjJAC&rdot=1

Your Dictionary. (2009, September 3). When to italicize. Retrieved from http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/punctuation/when/when-to-italicize.html

 

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5.5: Proofreading for Mechanics by Jordan Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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