Wordy Guide for Editors – US English

Wordy’s house style for U.S. clients is Chicago as outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. If the client does not specify a style, you should use Chicago. However, where another style is specified by the client, the requirements of that style guide override Chicago. For U.K. clients, the house style is that given in New Harts Rules.

1. Copy-editing: a check-list

Before returning any job, please ensure that you have carried out the following tasks:

  • Corrected all grammar, punctuation, spelling and usage;
  • Used language appropriate to the subject matter, the audience, and the purpose of the document insofar as the brief allows you to judge this (if there is no brief, use the Wordy messaging system to request clarification);
  • Achieved consistency in terms of writing style, argument, and format;
  • Eliminated ambiguity;
  • Raised queries via the Wordy messaging system with the client/author and implemented the answers;
  • Checked that internal cross-references are accurate;
  • Checked that references are formatted appropriately;
  • Ensured that the formatting of headings, bulleted lists, and other displayed matter is consistent;
  • Ensured that figures and illustrations are appropriate and correctly labeled and captioned.

If working in Word or other word-processing software, you should also have:

  • Ensured that the document is free from blank lines, unwanted spaces, and other unnecessary additions;
  • Used correct tagging or codes (if appropriate);
  • Applied the style sheet (if appropriate); and
  • Used Word’s track changes (or the equivalent in other word processors) on all work done.

If editing a website, you have also (in addition to the usual copy editing tasks):

  • Checked all hyperlinks,
  • Ensured sentences and paragraphs are short, and
  • Removed all unnecessary words and used the simplest language possible.

It is not your job to:

  • Check facts, or
  • Raise queries about legal issues such as permissions or libel.

2. Consistency (Structural and Textual)


  • The text should be logical, and a reasonable line of argument or progression of thought should be developed. If this is not the case, note the problem.
  • Where substantial restructuring is needed, suggestions can be made if solutions are obvious; otherwise, it is sufficient to flag.
  • In multi-author works, ensure consistency within chapters or sections; overall consistency between chapters may not be viable.

To ensure consistency in content, consider the following questions:

  • Does the contents page match the text, both in titles and in page numbers?
  • Are running heads and footers correct and consistently implemented?
  • Are headings formatted at the correct level?
  • Do captions match figures?
  • Do figures tally with in-text mentions?
  • Do references tally with in-text citations?
  • Are spellings consistent?
  • Have undue repetitions been eliminated?

3.  House Style


  • Periods should be used with abbreviations; do not use periods with acronyms. Examples: NATO, e.g., but Mr., Dr. Exception: Use periods with U.S. and U.K. Note that these abbreviations should only be used adjectivally; U.S. citizens, but citizens of the United States.
  • No periods with metric units of measurement (see also Numbers and Units). Examples: kg, mph, 10 m/s2, but ft., in.
  • Acronyms and abbreviations should be fully spelled out at their first appearance in the text with the acronym or abbreviation in parentheses after the full term. Example: He was a keen supporter of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
  • If the acronym or abbreviation is very well known to the intended audience, it may not need defining. Examples might include: BBC, UN, NATO, DNA, RNA.

(See also Numbers and Units)

  • An eight-year-old, a 21-year-old.


  • Avoid in running text; use “and” instead.
  • Use in company names only when the company itself does so. Check the company’s website for this information; rely on text, not the company logo, for this.

Brand names

  • Where possible, use generic terms rather than specific. Examples: vacuum cleaner not Hoover, sticky notes not Post-It Notes.
  • Avoid the trademark, copyright, and registered trademark symbols—©, ™, and ® unless the context absolutely requires their inclusion. These symbols are always superscript without a preceding space.

(See also Titles)

  • Capitalize the first word of a quotation if it is a complete sentence.
  • Do not capitalize words unless strictly necessary.
  • Capitalize geological epochs, recognized historical periods, religions, etc. Examples: the Tower of London, the Ritz, the Cretaceous, the Middle Ages, Sikhism.
  • Capitalize a short-form mention of a previously mentioned capitalized organization, place, etc. Example: The Ministry of Justice . . . the Ministry.
  • Recognized geographical names are capitalized. Examples: the City of London, South Africa. But note, for example, “Durham city” and “south Oxford.” Only capitalize north, south, east, and west if they are parts of an established place name.
  • General job descriptions such as managing director, trustee, chairman use lower case. Example: the managing director of ASDA.
  • Titles and ranks are generally lower case unless used before a name or as a name. Examples: the queen of England, the bishop of Winchester, but the Louis Pasteur Professor of Endocrinology.
  • Adjectives derived from proper names are capitalized. Examples: Marxist, Byronic.


  • Use numerals for currency and close up the symbol to the numeral. Examples: £1.00, €20, $5 million.
  • If a currency is unfamiliar to the target audience or could be ambiguous, the symbol is preceded by the capital letter (or letters) of the country concerned. Examples: A$5 (Australian), C$5 (Canadian), NZ$5 (New Zealand), E£5 (Egypt).
  • £ and $ without prefixed letters denote the British pound and U.S. dollar, respectively. Use € for the euro.

Dates and time

  • 4:00 a.m., 6:55 p.m.
  • 04:00, 18:55 (use the 24-hour clock only if the context demands it).
  • March 4, 2005 (unless U.K. style is required: 4 March 2005).
  • 500 BC and 750 AD (note the order of the numerals and abbreviations and the use of small capitals).
  • Periods of time are not treated as measurements unless technical/scientific usage demands otherwise. Examples: one hour not 1 h, three days not 3 days.

Displayed lists
(See Lists)

Inclusive language

  • Do not use “he” (or “she”) to encompass “he or she.”
  • Passive constructions may be used sparingly to avoid repetition of “he or she.”
  • The use of “they” as a substitute for “he or she” is not permissible, although it is advisable to restructure sentences to have plural subjects in order to avoid gender-biased language.
  • If a gender-neutral expression can be easily substituted for a non-neutral one (work-hours for man-hours; chair for chairman), then do so.
  • It can be difficult to keep up with what is currently considered inclusive, so, in general:
  • – use expressions such as “disabled people” rather than “the disabled”;
  • – avoid terms such as “suffering from,” “battling against” with diseases, unless the context absolutely demands it;
  • – “girl” and “boy should refer to children, not adults;
  • – do not use “ethnic’’ to mean black or Asian. Refer to people as “belonging to an ethnic minority” or use the appropriate modifier, i.e., Asian or African or African American.
  • – use ‘”person first” language, i.e., “a person with autism” rather than “an autistic person”


  • In URLs, omit http:// if the URL starts with www.
  • Use HTML, not html.
  • Do not hyphenate “email: but do hyphenate similar terms (e.g. ”e-commerce”)
  • No capitals for “internet,” “web,” and “website.” Note that “website” is one word.
  • Break long URLs in the following descending order of desirability:
  • – after a single forward slash,
  • – after the second slash of http://,
  • – after a period,
  • – after an underscore,
  • – after a hyphen.

(See also Quotations)

  • Titles of books, newspapers, television programs, etc., are italic, but double quotation marks and roman text are used for articles, chapters, and other parts of larger works. Example: “A Scandal in Bohemia” is the first of the short stories in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Unusual foreign words are italicized. Example: vendange, but salami. If in doubt, don’t italicise. For usage, follow Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Variables in mathematics are italic. Examples: x axis, x + y = z.
  • Italics for emphasis are permissible. Example: He was being economical with the truth.


  • Displayed lists can be numbered or bulleted.
  • The text preceding a list usually (but not necessarily) ends in a colon.
  • A list comprising short phrases is styled as follows:
  • - the entries in the list may start with a lower or upper case letter, as long as the usage is consistent;
  • - entries except the final entry end with a comma, if the items are grammatically simple, or a semicolon, for complex items;
  • - the last point in the list ends with a period.
  • If the list does not start with a colon (e.g., a standalone list or one following a full stop) or if each bullet is a proper sentence, the first letter of each entry should be capitalized, and each should end with a period.
  • Text directly following lists should flush left unless a new paragraph is being started. Flush left paragraphs must be identified as such for the typesetter.

Numbers and units
(See also Ages, Currency, and Dates and Time)

  • Spell out numbers one to ten. Other numbers are in figures.
  • Use a comma in numbers over 999. Examples: 1,000; 10,000; 1,000,000
  • Millions, etc., can be spelled out or given in numerals, depending on the context. Indices are acceptable in technical usage. Example: 1,500,000, 1.5 million, 1.5 × 106.
  • Use a hyphen for spelled-out numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine.
  • Numerals may not start sentences in running text (i.e. excluding tables and similar); if a sentence must begin with a number, the number should be spelled out.
  • Numbers and words in the same sentence may be mixed. Example: He had previously owned two cats, but found himself in charge of 11 dormice. However, two numbers of the same items should use the same format. Example: He had 14 computers, but only 2 were working.
  • Fractions: if spelled out, use a hyphen. Examples: one-half, three-quarters, one-tenth, 1/12
  • Periods of time are not treated as measurements unless technical/scientific usage demands otherwise. Examples: one hour not 1 h, three days not 3 days.
  • Percentages should always be expressed as a number. Examples: 2 percent, 22 percent. (“per cent” in U.K. usage); % is permissible in tables and illustrations.
  • Decimal points are on the line, not raised.
  • Units must use conventional abbreviations. Example: μg not mcg.
  • Units are separated from the numeral by a space, and use the solidus (if units use indices and you think that these should be retained, query Wordy).
  • Examples: 60 kg, 4 cm, 15 hp, 48 Mb, 10 m/s2.
  • Do not hyphenate units. Example: 50 mg/day dosage not 50-mg/day dosage.
  • Use metric units in preference to U.S. or Imperial, unless the context demands otherwise, especially in scientific/technical contexts. It may sometimes be appropriate to add the metric equivalent or the conversion factor in parentheses, e.g., if an Imperial unit is unfamiliar to the target audience.
  • Inches are abbreviated to in. (note the point), feet to ft. (do not use ‘ and “).
  • Elide ranges using an endash. Examples: 3:00–5:15 p.m. NOT 3:00-5:15 p.m. 1440–1500, pp. 123–144.
  • Points of the compass
  • Capitalise only when part of a recognized geographical place name. Examples: West Coast, North Carolina, north Somerset.
  • No periods in abbreviations. Examples: SE, NNW.
  • Do not hyphenate. Examples: southwest, northeast.

(See Part 6)


  • Use quotation marks for excerpts from speeches, books, etc., but if a word or phrase is being defined or discussed, use italics. Examples: He was, he said, “not a little concerned.” When we talk about being not a little concerned we mean . . .


  • Follow the author’s style if it is consistent. If the author has specified a particular style, please refer to the appropriate guide. Otherwise, example styles are provided below. For details or for a specific examples not provided here, see Chicago Manual of Style.

List style

  • Name/date (Harvard) style. References should be listed in alphabetical order. References with the same first author are listed in the following order: single-author references (in date order), then references with two authors (in alphabetical order), then references with three or more authors (in year order). References with the same authors and year are differentiated by appending a, b, etc., to the year (ensure the text citations are also differentiated accordingly).
  • Numbered (Vancouver) style. References are listed in the order in which they are cited in the text.
  • The following provides a general style for citations (the actual style may vary depending on a particular job, the author’s style, the specified style guide, etc.). If the references use the numbered style, the list should be in numerical order and the entries preceded by the number and a period. The entry number should be on the line, not superscript.


  • Liu, P. C. and Smith, A. P. (1991). Damage to concrete structures in a marine environment. Journal of Materials and Structures 24(142), 302–307.


  • Taylor, H. F. W. 1990. Cement Chemistry, 2 edn., vol. 2. London: Academic Press.
  • Taylor, H. F. W. 1990. Properties of slurries, 2 edn. In Cement Chemistry, ed. D. W. Smith and A. Jones (London: Academic Press), pp. 390–394.


  • Collins, F. G. and Kirk, G. A. 1994. Electrochemical removal of chlorides from concrete. In Proceedings of the International Conference on the Rehabilitation of Concrete Structures, Paris, ed. D. W. Smith and F. Lewis (London: Thomas Telford), pp. 2–30.
  • Bloggs, J., Taylor, H. F. W. and Diamond, S. 1997. Properties of concrete. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Soil Mechanics. Dundee, pp. 22–28.
  • Bloggs, J. 1997. Properties of concrete. Paper presented at the 9th International Conference on Soil Mechanics, Dundee, April.

Standards and reports

  • British Standards Institution. 1995. A Study of Breakdown in Concrete. BS 4486:2. BSI, Milton Keynes.
  • Bloggs, J. 1995. A Study of Breakdown in Concrete. RTa 54a. Philadelphia: American Society for Testing Materials.
  • Bloggs, J. 1996. A Study of Breakdown in Concrete. Report STP 67. Detroit, MI: American Concrete Institute.


  • Bloggs, J. 1995. A study of breakdown in concrete. PhD thesis, University of Sussex, Brighton.

In-Text citations
Name/date style

  • Use semicolons to separate lists of citations. Do not use commas between the author’s name and the year. Example: Smith and Blackheart (1990) reported previous findings (Ramones and Blondie 1978; Jett et al. 1979).
  • If there is more than one citation within parentheses, they should be ordered either alphabetically or by year, beginning with the most recent. Make sure usage is consistent throughout the text.
  • In a list of citations, combine those differing only in the year. Example: (Ramones and Blondie 1978; Smith and Jones 1991a,b, 1995; Zither et al. 1978, 1990).

Numbered style

  • All citations must be numbered in the order in which they will be encountered by a reader. This includes citations in figures and tables.
  • Numbers should be enclosed in parentheses or in square brackets. Some styles may require numbers to be italicized or in superscript. In all cases, multiple citations are indicated by a list of numbers are separated by commas without a following space. Examples: Smith and Blackheart [11] reported previous findings [12,13]. Smith and Blackheart11 reported previous findings.12,13
  • If superscript numbers are used, these should be placed outside punctuation. Example: by Smith;11 but not all.12–14
  • Elide ranges, using an endash. Example: [8,12–15] not [8,12,13,14,15].

(See also Numbers and Units)

  • Only brief guidance is provided here for commonly encountered areas of science. Follow the norms for each particular scientific field and refer to the Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors and similar publications. Most scientific publications will follow either CSE or AMA style; refer to the appropriate style guide for detailed advice.
  • Do not capitalize scientific laws, theories, etc. Example: Newton’s first law of motion not Newton’s First Law of Motion.


  • – hyphens and brackets in chemical names have specific meanings – do not alter unless you are familiar with the nomenclature
  • – commas in names do not have a following space
  • – some prefixes are italic – follow the author/client’s usage
  • – ensure that superscripts and subscript numbers are used correctly in formulae. Examples: (S,S)-trans-(R,R)-trans-1,2-dichlorocyclopentane, CO2, H2O, Mg2+.


  • – variables are italic
  • – symbols (+, –, =, etc.) are spaced
  • – brackets are nested in the order {[( …)]}
  • – > and < when used as prefixes are closed up to the following numeral, but are spaced when used as operators. Examples: x axis, x + y = z, a = [b + (sin c)]/(d + e), >25, x > 2 + y.
  • Medicine:
  • – check that drug names are correct for the intended audience; refer to the Physician’s Desk Reference and similar publications for guidance.
  • – check that drug dosages do not have obvious errors (e.g. the decimal point in the wrong place).
  • Taxonomy:
  • – all taxa (family, order, genus, etc.) except for species start with an initial capital
  • – genus and species are italic
  • – if a binomial (i.e. genus plus species names) is mentioned several times, the genus can be abbreviated
  • – “species” is sometimes abbreviated to sp. (singular) and spp. (plural) – these are roman not italic. Example: The English oak, Quercus robur, belongs to the family Fagaceae.

(See Inclusive Language)

Superscripts and subscripts

  • Word processors often insert spurious superscripts in degrees (1st, 2nd, 3rd); remove these superscripts unless the context demands otherwise.
  • Ensure common chemical formulae use subscript numbers. Examples: CO2, H2O, O2, NOx.

Telephone numbers

  • In parentheses, after the name and address. For overseas telephone numbers, consult client or web search for appropriate format. Overseas numbers begin with a plus sign and the country code. Example: +49 4106 3797 not 01049 4106 3797.

(See Dates and Time)


  • Follow company usage in running text on, for example, their website; do not follow the logo if that is different.


  • Use lower-case initials in general. Examples: John Smith, the managing director of Glaxo; the bishop of Winchester; the chief executive was present.
  • Job descriptions such as “managing director,” “trustee,” and “chairman” routinely take lower-case initials even when the company is referred to. Example: the managing director of ASDA.


  • Publication titles: italic with major words taking an initial capital; the word directly following a colon also takes an initial capital.
  • Newspapers and journals: inclusion of “the” in the title follows usage by the publication itself. Examples: The Bookseller but the Guardian (as in its own style guide).

4.  Grammar

Collective nouns

  • Treat as singular unless the context absolutely demands a plural verb. Examples: The choir was due to appear in the concert. The team is in good spirits, they expect to win.

Fewer and less

  • Ensure correct usage, i.e. “fewer” for countable nouns and “less” for uncountable. Examples: There are fewer cars on the road nowadays. There is less traffic at night.

None is, none are

  • Both are acceptable in the correct context. Examples: The book has ten chapters, none is relevant to our immediate concerns. Many people are watching the end of this exciting game, none are willing to leave early.

Singular and plural

  • Ensure the correct use of words with irregular plurals such as “phenomenon,” “media,” and “criteria.”

Relative clauses

  • Use “that,” “who,” and “whom” to introduce identifying (defining, restrictive) clauses; no punctuation before the pronoun.
  • Use “which,” “who,” and “whom” to introduce non-identifying (nondefining, unrestrictive) clauses; use a comma before the pronoun. Examples: He married the woman that he met on the beach. He married the woman, whom he met on the beach, after just one week. The marriage, which took place on Monday, was arranged in a hurry.

Split infinitives

  • • Avoid unless the alternative is consciously echoing Star Trek’s “to boldly go” or is unacceptably clunky or ambiguous. Examples (the first example is acceptable although split, the second example has a different meaning):
  • - I’d like to really understand philosophy.
  • - I’d like to understand philosophy really.

Whether and if

  • These are interchangeable in reported questions, but after a verb use “whether.” Examples: She asked if she could go. She asked whether she could go. We discussed whether she could go. He has to decide whether she can go.

Who, whom

  • In relative clauses, “who” refers to the subject of the verb in the clause and “whom”to the object or complement. Examples: She played chess against an opponent whom she had never played before. She played chess against an opponent who came from Dunstable.

5.  Spelling and usage

Amid and among rather than amidst and amongst

Comprise, not ”comprise of”
Coordinate, cooperate, etc.

email, but ‘e-commerce’, etc.

freelance, not ‘freelancer’
farther or further, either is acceptable, but be consistent

into, use two words for continued action: “He turned into an ogre.” BUT “He turned his essay in to the teacher.”

log in as a verb, login as a noun or adjective


OK, not “okay”
online, always one word
on-screen, on screen, hyphenate before nouns but not after, e.g. ‘on-screen editor’ but ‘work on screen’

onto, use two words for continued direction (see “into”)

under way as an adverb, but “underway” as an adjective

while, not “whilst”

Many Wordy texts may come from a translation or have been written by someone whose first language is not English. Be vigilant for:

  • Homonyms. Example: sewer (a pipe for waste or someone who sews)
  • Homophones.
  • False friends. Examples: once (“eleven” in Spanish), genial (“brilliant” in German).

6.  Punctuation

Follow the style of the author/client as long as it is acceptable and consistent. Bear in mind the target audience (i.e. U.S. or U.K.): the default style is U.S.

If in doubt, or where there is no clear pattern, use the following guide:

  • Double quotation marks, single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. (Note the opposite applies in the U.K.).
  • Periods and commas appear inside the closing quotation mark. All other quotation appears outside of the mark, unless it is part of the original quotation.
  • Punctuation before a quotation should be consistent with the sense of the sentence.


  • Ensure correct usage, i.e. for possession and contractions but not for plurals. Examples: The cat’s whiskers. The bees’ knees. 100 years’ time. The fox slunk back to its lair. It’s well known that foxes have lairs. Dos and don’ts. 1960s

Bulleted and numbered lists
(See Lists in Part 3)


  • A colon is used to:
  • – introduce a list,
  • – introduce a long quotation, or
  • – introduce an explanation or amplification.
  • A capital letter must always follow the colon in a title. When the colon introduces an explanation or amplification, it is followed by a capital letter if what follows it runs two full sentences or more. If what follows is one complete sentence, the capital is optional, as long as usage is consistent. If the material following is a phrase or list, there is no capital. In U.K. English, there is no capital after the colon, except in titles of books, etc.
  • There should be no spaces before or after a colon that is part of a ratio, biblical reference or similar. Examples: We need four people to work on this project: an editor, a translator, a proofreader and a project manager. Hamlet replied: “Words, words, words.” There was a problem with my bike: the back tire was punctured.


  • Semicolons are used to join two sentences or to separate items in a list that consists of grammatically complex items. Examples: Some people are still smoking more than 20 cigarettes a day; others have given up successfully and have not smoked for many years. Employees enjoy many benefits: nursery facilities for children up to the age of three; interest-free loans for season tickets; and an ability to work flextime and earn up to five extra days of leave per year.


  • Follow the author/client’s preferences.
  • Use a final serial comma (Oxford comma) unless the author/client’s style dictates otherwise.
  • Use to isolate discourse markers such as “however,” “indeed,” etc. Example: The child was, however, nowhere to be seen.


  • Use closed up em rules. (For U.K. style, use spaced en rules).


  • At the end of a sentence, use a period after an ellipsis.


  • Generally avoid hyphens with prefixes, especially scientific or medical compounds (e.g. gastrointestinal). But use where necessary for clarity (re-cover, recover, re-enter).
  • Hyphenate compound adjectives both pre- and postnominally, with the following exceptions:
  • – noun–noun or very well-known adjective phrases
  • – phrases with adjectives ending in “ly”
  • – postnominal phrases using the past tense. Examples: electron microscope image, molded-plastic cup (but stainless steel cup).
  • Hyphenate fractions. Example: two-thirds.
  • Hyphenate numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine.


  • Parentheses (round brackets) are normally used, but use square brackets for authorial alterations or insertions in quoted matter.
  • Follow normal conventions for scientific and mathematical texts.

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