The DocEditor Blog

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‘More generally, your footnotes are far too long and, goodness me, you don’t know how to use a semicolon, do you?’ These almost throwaway words were addressed to me in the year 2000, during my PhD oral exam.

Reader, I did not use a semicolon again until 2014. As Denise Cowle so rightly says in her YouTube explainer ‘How to use a semicolon’ (which I could have done with 20 years ago), often people are either scared of semicolons so they avoid them altogether, or they scatter them about without understanding their correct placement. Before my examiner’s comment I had been the second type of person; afterwards, I became the first.

One of my favourite lines from a movie is in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, where our protagonist turns to his casino table companion and says: ‘Allow myself to introduce... myself.’

In addition to the words, I love his visible effort in working out what to say after ‘introduce’. Of course there’s no other way forward for Austin than to repeat himself with ‘myself’.

In editing any document you will usually come across an attempt to present more than one piece of information in a serial fashion – in other words, to create a list.

You can easily detect a bulleted or numbered list trotting towards you, like a reliable but sometimes unkempt pony, and so you can be ready to battle (or perhaps groom) it with your own checklist: consistency with other lists? Consistency in capitalisation and punctuation? Agreement of lead-in text with all points, particularly those at the end? And so on. New Hart’s Rules and Butcher’s Copy-editing can help you build a checklist for grooming your ponies – I mean, for improving your vertical lists.