Monday, May 18, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Give me a break!

Struggling to fit words like adrenocorticotropic on the page? For an ordinary end-of-line word break, consult a dictionary. Barring some forms, outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style, words may be divided where the dots indicate. There are two important restrictions on breaking up words. The first is that single-syllable words and their verb forms are indivisible and second, one should never introduce a break that leaves one letter hanging before or after the hyphen.

The hyphen used in word division is a "soft hyphen." While hard hyphens join compound words and are permanent fixtures in a text, the soft hyphen comes and goes as text is arranged.

Amy Einsohn, in The Copyeditor's Handbook, addresses the responsibilities of authors and copyeditors when it comes to editing for correct hyphenation related to word breaks. While editing or composing, the line breaks don't always transfer into the final copy. Therefore,

Copyeditors working on hard copy...rather than checking for the correct hyphenation of a word [should mark] all soft hyphens with a "close-up and delete" sign. Copyeditors working onscreen will not encounter soft hyphens in well-prepared manuscripts because authors are instructed not to use soft hyphens. If the author has used soft hyphens...turn off the hyphenation feature, which will delete the soft hyphens from the files.

For more guidelines concerning the nuances of end-of-line breaks, including how to negotiate URLs and e-mail addresses, see section 7.33-7.45 in the Chicago Manual of Style.

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