Stop. Just Stop (Doing These Things)

All editors and agents have a few pet peeves. Some of us have more than a few. In my case, it’s a virtual menagerie. So, while you may want to keep my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and OCC (overly cantankerous condition) in mind as you read, please consider the following list of “things you should stop doing immediately and forever” if you’re writing for publication.

Stop writing “the reason why.”

The reason you should stop writing “the reason why” is that the word why is always unnecessary in the phrase. See what I mean?

 Stop putting two spaces after a period.

Back in the olden days, when us old folks learned to type, we were taught to hit the space bar twice after a period. Since the advent of computers and their magical spacing properties, this has been unnecessary. So, stop it. Unless you’re still using a typewriter (in which case I bow to your old-world wizardry).

 Stop writing “forward” or “foreward” when you mean “foreword.”

Seriously, writers, we’re supposed to know this. A foreword is the section of a book before (see the word fore there?) the author’s content—usually written by someone famous or influential. Forward, of course, means “moving ahead.” And there’s no such word as foreward.

 Stop writing “end result.”

I will grant that the phrase is acceptable in rare instances, when various results are mentioned prior to an “end result.” But seeing “end result” used when “result” will suffice results in a shudder from me.

 Stop hitting return repeatedly to create a new page.

This is another holdover from typewriter days, I guess. But in modern word-processing programs, the way to create a new page (after a partial page of text) is to “insert” a “new page,” not by repeatedly pressing the “return” or “enter” key until a new page appears (which will very likely change when the document is opened on a different computer or when edits are made in the document).

Stop writing “where it’s at”

Like “the reason why” and “the end result,” “where it’s at” (unless it’s in a passage of groovy dialogue) is better stated as “where it is.”

Stop writing “small little.”

We say things in speech we wouldn’t put in writing. So don’t write sentences such as, “It was a small little community.” It’s redundantly redundant.


Obviously, the end result of all this is that we can all agree that such small little things are the reasons why some people don’t associate with me. But please believe me when I say that these pet peeves are where it’s at. And, if you’re a writer, where it should be.


36 Responses to Stop. Just Stop (Doing These Things)

  1. tuviapollack November 20, 2019 at 5:29 am #

    I don’t think I’ve ever hit return a zillion times, except in high school maybe.
    Nevertheless, Word messed up things. After page 200 it started to skip rows once in a while, even though they were really there. I never figured out why.
    Now I use scrivener and don’t worry about pages at all. I just write my chapter and let the software deal with the formatting afterwards.

    • Bob Hostetler November 20, 2019 at 10:06 am #

      Scrivener is black magic. Just so’s ya know.

      • Bryan Mitchell November 20, 2019 at 10:19 am #

        Another thing Word does is change the type of quotation marks you’re using. I had my work on a flash drive and was working on it from a different computer and found out later that my curly quotations changed to straight-lined quotations.

      • Dee Bright November 20, 2019 at 9:38 pm #

        Are you saying Scrivener is good black magic, or bad black magic? Or is there such a thing as good black magic?

        • Ann Arn November 21, 2019 at 2:39 am #

          Thank you for asking, Dee!

  2. Dr. MaryAnn Diorio November 20, 2019 at 5:30 am #

    I can’t imagine why anyone would have any reason, whether small little or big large, to refuse to associate with such an accomplished man, especially a man who understands full well the end result of leaving two spaces after a period and hitting return repeatedly until a new page appears. Such a man is deserving of our highest respect and admiration, not to mention our utmost gratitude and appreciation for showing us where it’s at. 🙂

    • Bob Hostetler November 20, 2019 at 10:07 am #

      You’re very wisely wise.

  3. Dennis Brooke November 20, 2019 at 5:40 am #

    And how about the word “utilize” instead of just “use”? I see it a lot more in business writing. I want to ask them if they get paid by the syllable.

    • Paula November 20, 2019 at 6:39 am #

      Fie on thee, cruel jargon!

    • Bob Hostetler November 20, 2019 at 10:07 am #

      But but but “utilize” sounds importanter.

  4. Deb Haggerty November 20, 2019 at 6:13 am #

    Yay, Bob! We editors and publishers salute you.

    • Bob Hostetler November 20, 2019 at 10:08 am #

      Ours is a small little fraternity, but a very very very nice one.

  5. A. Robertson November 20, 2019 at 6:49 am #

    I’m curious as to why putting two spaces after a period is an issue. A manuscript, if accepted, is going to be typeset anyway. To my eye, leaving one space often makes the sentences looked cramped and difficult to read.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield November 20, 2019 at 9:49 am #

      A., one reason the two spaces is an issue is that in academic writing in the the social sciences and several other very large fields such as education and nursing, scholars and writers must follow the rules of APA (American Psychological Society) in everything from class assignments to research papers to dissertations to journal articles to books. This is not a small market–in 2014 more than 28K peer-reviewed journals were in print. When APA released the 6th edition in 2009, the rule had been changed from two spaces after a period to one and millions of students, faculty, researchers, and authors had to comply. (Why the change? Who knows? To sell manuals?) A colleague’s entire completed dissertation that had two spaces formatting and the 5th edition pattern for references had to be edited to match the new rules because it had not received its final approval yet. In many (most?) cases, non-compliance is grounds for getting an assignment returned ungraded or a manuscript rejected at the submission level–typesetters don’t fix things like that. Knowing and following the rules is considered the writer’s responsibility. So although it may not often impact authors of fiction, to many writers and editors, it’s not just an issue, it’s a big deal.

    • Bob Hostetler November 20, 2019 at 10:11 am #

      It’s also an issue because things change in transmission. What looks “right” to your eye may not look right on the receiving end, particularly if things like line breaks are involved, etc.

  6. Paula November 20, 2019 at 6:51 am #

    This made me laugh because it made me think of a friend’s request when I told him my new job was writing and producing television commercials. “Promise me one thing,” he said. “Never use the ‘virtually’ as in ‘virtually spotless.’ Those dishes either come out spotless or they don’t.”

    It was one of his greatest pet peeves in advertising to see that phrase from the Department of Redundancy Department. And that, my friend, is why he was my friend. ;>)

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 20, 2019 at 7:46 am #

    Bob, this seemed oddly suited for an allegory on the fell times of pancreatic cancer. (And, Bob, a request – if this sonnet is ever published in a collected verses volume, may I quote this post?)

    Dennis and Paula, I also wored in, respectively, your ‘utilize’ and ‘virtually’.

    The morning is the foreward
    of where it’s at, ahead;
    the end result I’m moving toward,
    marked by a dawn gone red.
    I don’t know the reason why;
    no but, full stop, two spaces.
    Pain’s no small little cause to cry;
    but tears will bring no graces.
    I wish there was a bright new page
    (hit ‘return’ until it’s virgin white)
    where I may write of something sage
    to utilize in this falling night.
    I’m spent, with virtually nothing left;
    dear Lord, my Rock, I bid you cleft!

  8. Roberta Sarver November 20, 2019 at 8:18 am #

    Bob, some of us can identify with your OCD a tiny little bit. But ODD was a new one for me. The reason why is the end result. Chuckles to you today.

  9. marilyn pardine November 20, 2019 at 8:44 am #

    Your remarks are cogent. One of the best writers of matters pertaining to the English language was William Safire, of the New York Times. His book, How Not to Write, is informative, very useful and humorous. I’ll try not to make two spaces after a period.Thank you.Marilyn Pardine

  10. Jackie Houchin November 20, 2019 at 9:17 am #

    My thumb automatically hits space twice after a period. At the end of my piece, as part of editing, I simply run Find-Replace and they are all corrected.
    Old school writer with a vent for double spacing.

  11. Karen November 20, 2019 at 9:32 am #

    Love, love this and all the comments, I’m going to share with my students. Thank you.

  12. Michele Olson November 20, 2019 at 9:52 am #

    Everything you said is true, until it isn’t. Nothing stays stagnant. Some new bestseller will break all those rules and everyone will run like a herd of cats to imitate the new innovation. The grammar police all had a heart attack when Pepsi put out “You got the right one baby, uh-huh”, but it sold a whole lot of soft drinks. Not apples to apples, I know, but you get the picture. The pet peeves of today become the breakout stars of tomorrow. I think Abraham Lincoln said that on the internet, so it must be true. Thanks for the article!

  13. Rick Barry November 20, 2019 at 9:58 am #

    Bob, thanks for brightening my morning. Keeping standing in the literary gap for all mankind!

    • Paula November 20, 2019 at 10:14 am #

      Rick, Help! I’ve fallen into the maw of a literary gap and I can’t get up!

  14. Lorie Davis November 20, 2019 at 11:10 am #

    Bob, although one space after a period is now “Chicago Style” recent research has proven that two spaces make a document easier for anyone to read. Shall we go with Chicago or recent research? (see, I used 2 spaces there, and the extra space makes the end of the sentence more obvious.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 20, 2019 at 11:34 am #

      Lorrie, I just couldn’t resist.

      You’d best go with Chicago style,
      it’s something useful you can use,
      and you might keep this on file:
      it’s an offer that you can’t refuse.
      To the meeting bring your big old gat
      for when you’re outside, wearing mittens,
      For inside times, sans coat and hat,
      just bring along gat’s gittens.
      Your contract will be more assured
      and quite definitely brighter
      when in its writing you’re assured
      use of a Chicago Typewriter.
      And no, you’ll never walk alone
      when you channel Al Capone.

      For clarity, ‘gat’ is 20s slang for a pistol, and gittens are clearly smaller pistols (geddit?)

      A Chicago Typewriter is a Thompson gun, so named for its rather slow cyclic rate (rate of fire); it does sound like a competent typist!

  15. Lorie Davis November 20, 2019 at 11:11 am #

    However, my computer or your document formatter took out the extra space. 🙂

  16. Viktor Steiner November 20, 2019 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks for the wise words. What infuriates me, a non-editor, is the habit—it’s worse; I believe it’s what Chicago Style requires—of these horrendous m-dashes without any spaces, which are illogical (why tie things together when you’re trying to separate a sub-clause?) and totally disrupt the display on screens and e-readers.

  17. claire o'sullivan November 20, 2019 at 2:49 pm #

    my bugaboo of several is the pfft-ness of Strunk and White and the hammer of the CMS. There are days when I say pffft to that and make up a word for fun or add an adverb (gadzooks, Batman!) and pair words/phrases that smack ironically. Oh. And start with a gerund here and there. Add an ly adverb, or perhaps an of at the end of a sentence. Then, break every CMS rule ever made, while making Strunk and White roll in their graves. OK so editors and agents hate me for that. Well. Whatever. It’s a fun exercise at the very, very, very least of every thing ever writ, wrat,wrote.

  18. sheila d arrington November 20, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

    As a new writer, I welcome the free advice. Thank you!

  19. Steve Laube November 20, 2019 at 6:57 pm #

    Here is an excellent article with screen shots as to why it is one space after a period and not two. It is an issue of typesetting. Especially as it relates to “proportional fonts.”

  20. Steve Laube November 20, 2019 at 7:03 pm #

    Of course in our modern day of typing on a phone we may just end up back with writers of the New Testament manuscripts. They were written in all caps with no spaces between words and no punctuation. To save papyrus.

    It looked like this (but in Greek):

    Isn’t that so much easier?

    Makes part of Ephesians 1 so much more fun to read:

  21. Dee Bright November 20, 2019 at 9:46 pm #

    Bob, if you suffer from OCD, you may be interested in a recent study that breaks the condition into subcategories.

    From those subcategories they’ve determined the most common condition is OCDOLAS: Obsessive Compulsive Disor—OH-LOOK-A-SQUIRREL!

  22. Susan Blower November 21, 2019 at 5:52 am #

    Your last paragraph is where it’s at!

  23. Jan Johnson November 21, 2019 at 8:57 am #

    How about “these ones”- drives me crazy

  24. esthermcdowellthompson November 21, 2019 at 9:23 am #

    Thank you for the information regarding hitting new page. I hadn’t heard that.

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