UncategorisedWhy grammar and punctuation purists are often wrong | The Editing Lounge

We’ve all been there. A member of the Grammar Police has decided there’s a glaring mistake in our writing. They’ve followed a style rule ever since their schooldays and are 100% convinced that any alternatives to their way of doing things are absolutely 100% wrong. 

But grammar and punctuation rules evolve. There are times to break the rules, times to choose between contradictory rules, and times to put the rules in the bin. That’s why copyediting is rarely about telling a writer what’s right and what’s wrong. Nope. It’s about helping a writer make stylistic choices.

Whether you’re deciding to italicise the names of magazines, avoid split infinitives, or use single quotation marks instead of double, the most important thing to focus on is consistency. You can make tonnes of choices surrounding grammar and punctuation as long as you consistently follow the style that’s right for you.

Follow a style guide

Examples of stylistic choices | The Editing Lounge

Editorial style controls all elements of your writing, from your punctuation, spelling, hyphenation, and capitalisation to your type styles (italic, bold, and roman), abbreviations, contractions, and numbers. And ensuring consistency is one of the best ways to avoid reader distractions. 

The easiest way to stay consistent when writing is to use a style guide. There are loads of style guides out there (New Hart’s Rules, Chicago, AP, Harvard, etc) to help you maintain consistency, and certain disciplines tend to lean towards some guides more than others. New Hart’s Rules is a common style guide for UK fiction authors, and it’s the guide that I studied with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

If you haven’t followed a style guide while writing your works, your line editor or copyeditor should be able to apply one when editing your manuscript.

That said, if you’ve applied certain conventions consistently, your editor should make a note of these on a style sheet and uphold your creative decisions. This is because it’s more efficient to standardise your style than it is to impose an alternative style. And if your style isn’t ‘wrong’, why change it?

Note: both line editors and copyeditors should draw up a style sheet based on a style guide and/or your creative decisions as part of their editing services. However, if you’ve already hired a line editor and are now hiring a copyeditor, you should hand your line editor’s style sheet over to the copyeditor for them to use.

Examples of stylistic choices

Lots of writers refer to black and white ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’. But these are only true in some cases. As long as you’re consistent, it doesn’t matter.

Here are some examples of stylistic choices that you (or your publisher) have control over. Keep in mind that if you’re following a specific style guide, this can direct you on which rule to follow.

You can choose whether to use:

Examples of stylistic choices | The Editing Lounge

Note: there are exceptions (and exceptions to exceptions) when it comes to these rules. You’ll find different exceptions to the ‘rules’ in each style guide. This is just one of the reasons why Grammarly and other editing programmes aren’t intelligent enough to edit your work for you. 


Spelling | The Editing Lounge

Stylistic choices are much more likely to arise over grammar and punctuation than they are spellings, which are usually standardised. 

Dictionaries do vary, especially between countries, but stick with one and you’ll find it easy to stay consistent. I recommend the Lexico dictionary for UK writers (this follows Oxford style) and Merriam Webster dictionary for U.S. writers. Both are free online.


It’s helpful to have these style tips in mind when you’re writing, but don’t worry too much. A copyeditor can step in to polish your work and make sure it reads professionally.

About Charlotte

Charlotte McCormac | Line Editor | Copyeditor | Content Writer | Shrewsbury | Oswestry

Charlotte is an award-winning writer and line/copyeditor who writes and edits for clients all over the world. She also works on the fiction team for Ambit, a UK literary and arts magazine. 

She holds an international literary prize from Hammond House Publishing Group, two writing-related degrees, various marketing certifications, and training certificates from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, of which she is a Professional Member.

Charlotte’s work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and literary journals, including IndigomaniaDream Catcher, and The Curlew

She has also created a series of free self-editing cheat sheets to help new writers hone their fiction before sending their work off to a professional editor.

CIEP | Professional Member | The Editing Lounge