I’ve previously posted about the writing problems of wordiness, overused clichés and use of the wrong words for the job. These are problems you might encounter in any printed medium, whether that be books, newspapers, pamphlets or billboards.
My next topic concerns the medium in which we’re communicating: the internet. As an editor and proofreader for web companies and content creators, I’ve seen missteps that are peculiar to this medium and, on the whole, were virtually unknown (pun intended) prior to our current era of electronic communication and composition in the HTML environment.
No amount of polishing your prose, running it through spell-check or begging other pairs of eyes to review your work before you upload it will necessarily catch and fix these problems so unique to oue post-print world.
That’s why it’s so hard to notice them, let alone avoid them. Your computer won’t be any help there either, because it probably put them there in the first place! So, here are those two problems:
How not to face the wrong way.
Take a look at these items, and see if you can spot what’s wrong:
- rock ‘n’ roll
- How ‘bout it?
- “ ’That’s the way it goes,’ he said.”
In each example, an apostrophe or single quotation mark points in the wrong direction. It’s pretty obvious in the third example, but in “rock ‘n’ roll” and situations where an apostrophe precedes the word (as in ’bout or Cockney dialogue like ’Ave yer got the ’eat on, Fergus?), we can easily overlook it.
Apostrophes normally turn up toward the end of a word; for example, they’re in contractions like that’s and who’s, as well as in possessives like Arby’s and Lowe’s. I suspect that some readers who edit their own work — and even editors — mistake initial apostrophes, rare as they are, for a single open quotation mark. They look the same, but they don’t serve the same purpose.
This problem arises in writing for the web because a “helpful” word-processing program assumes that if you just hit the apostrophe or quotation key out in the open, you were starting to type a quote; and it tosses an open single or double quotation mark up on the screen.
That’s how you get “rock ‘n’ roll,” which is supposed to have two apostrophes (to signal the absence of the “a” and the “d” of “and”) but now has what could only technically qualify as a single open quotation mark and an apostrophe, or open and closed single quotation marks around that rockin’ “n.” The trouble is, neither of those marks makes any grammatical sense.
I’ve actually seen this one in books that were composed or typeset after the advent of computer word processing in the 1980s. This wasn’t a problem when words for print were set by hand or typewriter . . . although it was a short-lived issue even then, since rock ’n’ roll came into existence only a couple of decades before that. (Note the classic reverse-apostrophe error in the linked article, just below the gold record!)
How to get home.
How do you fix this? Well, you could keep a separate document with the correct characters that you could copy and paste into the piece you’re writing. But there’s a much easier fix.
Just delete the space that precedes the word that’s supposed to start with an apostrophe, then type the character (your word-processing program will now think you’re in the middle of a word) and, finally, reinsert the space in front of the correctly facing apostrophe.
The steps look like this:
- 1. rock ‘n’ roll
- 2. rock‘n’ roll
- 3. rockn’ roll
- 4. rock’n’ roll
- 5. rock ’n’ roll!
This looks longer and more complicated than it actually is in practice, once you know what you want and type it out.
How to avoid the “dangling anchor.”
I mentioned that I’ve seen “rock ‘n’ roll” in poorly edited books. But what you’ll never see in a book or printed newspaper has to do with building a hot link from your blog to another website or news story on the web. To do this, you normally drag your cursor across the word or phrase to highlight it.
The problem is that it’s easy to go too far and include a blank space or item of punctuation (or both) as part of your hot link. On the screen, the result may look fine — until a reader hovers a cursor over it and then sees your sloppiness.
or like this:
go here for more info)! . . . [pulls the punctuation — a closed parenthesis and an exclamation point — into the hot link]
These errors are easy to overlook until you become aware of them; then you start to notice them every time. In each case, an imbalance or inclusion of unnecessary items in the anchor makes it look sloppy, and less professional. To give your readers the best impression of your operation (especially your crack attention to detail in all facets of your work), you want to avoid these.
If you discover sloppy hot links already published in your blog and want to get rid of them, you can either rebuild the link from scratch, or go into the source code to edit. The Source will look something like this:
This is an example of a simple overrun: The hot link includes the space after the name of the school, which should come between the HTML code that ends the link — — and “at Hoople.” It’s a simple matter to delete that space in the source, move the cursor past the HTML command and hit the space bar there.
On rarer occasions, I’ve noticed that the writer failed to drag the cursor far enough to highlight the intended link — University of Southern North Dakota ….
Related: Avoiding Punctuation ‘Mass Hysteria’
This is usually pretty obvious on a website because that final letter or two is black instead of sharing the color of the rest of the hot link (the WYSIWYG is University of Southern North Dakota).But hasty and overeager writers actually upload content like this now and then.
And “hasty” and “overeager” are not words you want describing you, right?