Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Last week, I mentioned style sheets for authors and editors. This week, I thought it would be fun to give you an exercise to determine some of the smaller details that can be included in your style sheet by offering a grammar pop quiz:

In the following paragraph, I’m going to provide options for often misspelled or misused words, capitalization, and other fun things writers and authors need to remember or to write down. See how many you can get correct:

The morning sun rose over the dome of the Capital/Capitol where the doctor came to seek counsel/council with the senator/Senator from his state. The medical fraud in his hometown was a byproduct/by-product of greed. Sonograms, x-rays/X-rays/xrays, and other tests were too/to/two expensive for most patients. People lay/lied/laid there now dying because of improper treatment. How could this not affect/effect even the least caring of people? After spending awhile/a while in his own nightmarish visit in the hospital’s ER, the doctor sought out an investigative reporter at The Orlando Sentinel/the Orlando Sentinel/the Orlando Sentinel newspaper to expose the fraud. The doctor took a backseat/back seat in the investigation until the evidence indicated a hoard/horde of people was/were forced to seek treatment elsewhere. The doctor couldn’t care less/could care less if he lost his right to practice in that hospital—or any hospital in his state. He couldn’t allow this to go on any more/anymore.

The correct answers and rules are given below, but don’t cheat. Use this as a measure of which items belong on your personal style sheet/checklist. Finish the quiz and check your answers. If you missed any, those belong on your style sheet.

Capital/Capitol: Remember that a capitol is where a legislative assembly meets. A clue to this is that most capitols have a dome, which is spelled with an “o.” As a reminder: capital is the correct usage for a city that is the capital of the state.

Counsel/council: The correct form here is “counsel.” “Council” refers to a group brought together to deliberate or to rule, as in “town council.”

Senator/senator: Here, the correct form is lower case. Why? The word “the” gives us that clue. If our doctor had a specific senator to see, such as Senator Weldon or if he were calling out to the senator, “Do you have a moment, Senator?” the word would be capitalized.

Byproduct/by-product: Just like the words “old-fashion” and “good-bye,” this word is always hyphenated.

x-rays/X-rays/xrays: This is one I see noted incorrectly very often. The correct for is X-ray.

To/too/two: As the intent here is that the amount is excessive, our proper form is “too.”

Lay/lied/laid: I gave a hint for you in this one. Did you catch it? The word now indicates it is in the present. Our correct form is “lay.”

Affect/effect: This one gives me so much trouble. “Affect” is correct here, as it is a verb. While there is an exception to the rule, “effect” is usually a noun. Affect” is usually a verb.

Awhile/A while: Here, the proper use is the noun form “a while” because I’m actually saying that the doctor spent a period of time at the ER. “Awhile” is a verb meaning “for a period of time.”

The Orlando Sentinel/the Orlando Sentinel/the Orlando Sentinel: The proper form here is the last one. Note that “the” is not included in the italics.

backseat/back seat: “Backseat” is always one word.

hoard/horde: The correct term here is “horde,” which means a crowd of people. “Hoard” means to stash or to hide.

Was/were: Because a “horde” is a collective noun, indicating one horde, the proper use here is “was.”

couldn’t care less/could care less: If you could care less, you really aren’t making a point, are you? To say you couldn’t care less means there isn’t another ounce of caring in you regarding whatever it is you’re discussing.

any more/anymore: The correct term here is “anymore” which means “any longer.” “Any more” actually refers to “any additional.”

How did you do? If you missed a couple, don’t worry. Writers all have certain words, phrases, rules, etc., that stop us. That’s the beauty of the style sheet. Even when we can’t remember, we have the rule written down somewhere for quick and easy access.

Happy editing.


  1. I got the coudn't care less, but the problem is we spell things different in the UK anyway and we have awhile, alright, ahold, and think nothing of it. Of course, my m/s's come back from Lisa with ??? on them, so she gets a :) in the comment box right back at her lol. and to add to the confusion, goodbye is one word here too

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