Grammar Mistakes That Medium’s Copy Editors Really Don’t Want You to Make
Common errors and copy editor pet peeves to avoid
Here at Medium, when it comes to copy editing, we believe “copy style is like design with words.” (Iris, one of our copy editors, wrote that CE poetry!) Our copy editors are the gatekeepers of that word design, the house style, and general good grammar across Medium’s owned publications. They’re also the final pair of eyes before a piece is published.
So, while we, and other publications, may look to the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style for grammar and style rules, we also have an internal style guide that the copy editors refer to when editing a story.
Creators Hub asked our copy editing team what errors they see again and again and what personal pet peeves they have when it comes to style. We’ve also included some bonuses of what they love to see/read.
David: When a word or phrase is written by a majority of online users the wrong way: Like “everyday.” Instead of “I drink a ton of coffee every day,” they write “I drink a ton of coffee everyday.” I hate that.
Sam: A small error I see frequently is “that” instead of “who,” such as “we need a president that shows empathy.”
Tana: Using “which” when it should be “that,” like “a mindset which contributes to more incarceration” versus “a mindset that contributes to more incarceration.”
Sam: Unnecessarily capitalized words — especially when referring generally to the president of the United States.
Tana: Agreed! Unnecessarily capitalized words, particularly position or job titles, like “President of the HOA” or “Chief Security Officer for the company.”
Tiffany: I agree with Tana and Sam that unnecessary capitals are getting to me lately. Also, why are people trying to capitalize the internet!?
Tana: Comma splices, like “half of the users are police, the other half are private citizens.” Should be a semicolon.
Iris: Errors like $1 million dollars. [Ed.: This is redundant. It’s either 1 million dollars or $1 million.]
David: Hyphenated adverbs ending in -ly when modifying another word. A no-no in my book. [Ed.: AP Stylebook agrees.]
Iris: The infamous “missing L in public” typo.
Sloane: The equally infamous its/it’s, there/their/they’re, than/then typo.
Iris: Impact vs. affect. This year, “impact” as a verb is showing up a lot. Impact makes a great noun, but it can be a problematic verb or just a bit too much, particularly when the less intense “affect” can take its place. When I read impact in a context like “how the pandemic impacted the workplace,” I might even replace it with a stronger verb: “how the pandemic dismantled/altered/forever changed the workplace.” Here’s an example I just read in my local news outlet where impact shows up as an appropriately impactful noun: “the pandemic’s impacts on learning.” That said, I will sometimes leave impact as a verb when the context is especially intense, like so many things 2020.
Sloane: Language redundancies like “my own” + noun. Phrases like “my own mind” or “ my own thoughts” are redundant; “my mind” or “my thoughts” works just fine.
Iris: Definitely an online thing, but super-long in line links bug me, especially when they run onto a second or even third line. Or when stuff like quotation marks or trailing punctuation marks are linked when they don’t need to be. Tidy linking makes me happy.
Sloane: Me too! Long in-line linked copy — ugh, no. Just link the relevant word or short phrase, but not the word “here” or “said.”
Iris: Overuse of “not only/but also.”
Tana: Unnecessary commas: 1) “That a crime goes unsolved is not due to lack of effort by law enforcement, but lack of evidence.” 2) “Biases could be used to implicate someone in a crime, or in any variety of other legal but uncomfortable situations.” 3) “Thessen didn’t connect the dots at the time, but realizes now that this new bylaw was an act of subterfuge.”
Iris: Overuse of “from X to Y to Z.” Putting commas in there really gets my goat (from X, to Y, to Z).
Sloane: Overuse of the em dash kills me; however, when used well, it’s a delight. This piece by Peter Rubin is a good em-dash explainer.
Technically not wrong but try to avoid
Iris: Looooong run-on sentences for cute effect. This was a huge writing trend for a while. It’s okay and sometimes preferable in small doses, but I’ve seen a few pieces where it’s nearly every sentence. That’s asking a lot from a reader.
Sloane: Similarly, overly hyphenated word phrases are also an older trend that is still hanging on.
Tana: I’m not sure if this annoys anyone besides me, but it’s 100% a cross-platform thing [Ed.: Meaning other media publications are okay with this usage]: tucking in an unnecessary “the” before a profession and a name. Examples: 1) “The writer Maya Angelou says…” 2) “I spoke with the biologist Tedros Adhanom.” 3) “According to the scientist Jennifer Doudna.”
Bonus things we love
Sam: Love when linking is nice and tidy — not having the entire sentence linked.
Iris: I will love a writer forever when they demonstrate a solid grasp of semicolons and en dashes.
David: I love it when a writer caps the first word of a complete sentence following a colon, which is correct usage.
Sam: Also, I love when names are all spelled correctly! Like when the writer has clearly checked those.
David: I love seeing “minuscule” spelled correctly.