Not Even Chicago Can Help You Now

What happens when come up with an editorial quandary that is not addressed in a style manual? If you are more strict in the ways of copyediting, you might panic. You might clutch the Chicago Manual of Style to your chest and rock back and forth whimpering.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Having a question without an answer means that you can make up an answer. Do try not to let the power go straight to your head. What should you consider when crafting the perfect editorial solution?

1. Clarity

Whatever you do, make sure your answer is elegant or, in the words of a former colleague, causes you the least pain of all your options. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Strive for clarity and concision.

2. Consistency

Clarity, consistency, and accuracy are probably the three most fundamental goals of copyediting. So when you’re extrapolating wildly to find an answer to your as-of-yet unanswered question, try to stick with what comes before. Make your answer similar to what has gone before in your manuscript. If you come across this problem later in the manuscript, it almost goes without saying, use the same solution. Wild variations are just not done.

3. Audience

Clarity is strongly related to audience. What might be clear to me, might be completely incomprehensible to an eighteen-year-old computer science major (and vice versa). You can make as esoteric choices as you want as long as you don’t confuse your audience. Most scientists don’t give a flying fuck about the subjunctive as long as you keep the science good. Don’t bother them with your editorial drama. (Save that for your blog.) Your final decision should take audience into account.

‘Fess up: What’s the last copyediting rule that you totally just made up on the fly?

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