Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I recently purchased a knitting book that I returned within 48 hours. Why? Because the punctuation, capitalization and typography choices in the book annoyed me to the point where I found the book unreadable and unusable. Perhaps my 35+ years as an editor and writer make me very picky about certain things, but if I am going to spend money on a book, I want to be able to read it. In editing, as in knitting, details matter.

So what's wrong with the book?

Punctuation: Commas and quotation marks are not supposed to be sprinkled on text like jimmies on ice cream. Punctuation helps the reader navigate and understand the message. Commas in the wrong places and quotation marks around words that do not need them create visual and mental speed bumps for the reader.

Capitalization: Initial capital letters are for proper nouns. You do not make a word more important by capitalizing the first letter of it. Unnecessary caps create more speed bumps. Further, capitalizing a whole word for emphasis is a typewriter convention. Today's text programs give you bold and italic for that purpose. Heck, even Blogger gives you bold and italic.

Typography: As noted, this book uses a lot of quotation marks — and they are all typewriter (straight) quotation marks instead of typographer's (smart, curly or book) quotation marks, creating more speed bumps for me. Bulleted lists are not lined up and the designer chose tiny, weak bullets that are more like floating periods that bullets.

I am not talking about typos or writing style. I'm talking about what appear to be deliberate design choices that, for me, do not enhance readability and actually detract from readability. On the positive side, the book offered some interesting history, some techniques I wanted to learn and some patterns. But, on balance, the negative aspects outweighed the positive, so the book went back to the vendor.

I am not naming the book, the author or the publisher. Other people will love this book, and I wish them all happiness with it.


Bridget said...

Good for you! I'm really tired of books that seem to be shoddily (is that a word?) put together. Especially if they are expensive. I wish more people would fuss about it, but most people I come across think things like spelling, punctuation, etc. are not that important ... makes me feel like Grandpa Simpson! ("In my day ...")

Debbie said...

ha! you're such an editor! I bet you just HATE it that I've fallen to such depths of laziness that I no longer capitalize the first letter in sentences, huh? heh heh

Korora said...

Oh, come on, Sue, whisper the title in the ear of a fellow editor who doesn't want to be exposed to such horror?

Sue V said...

No, not going to throw any stones in public, even whispered stones.