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Nov 11 / Tim Coughlin

Common errors, Part 3: A grab-bag of grammar and style reminders

We wrap up our three-part series on common errors encountered by Bleacher Report’s copy editors with a grab-bag of topics. Here are Part 1, about agreement, and Part 2, about numbers.

No serial comma: Bleacher Report follows the AP Stylebook with comma lists. Instead of using a serial comma (aka Oxford comma), B/R omits the comma before the coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items. Example: “Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy will start the first three games of the World Series for the Red Sox.” Use a serial comma only if omitting it would cause confusion, as in: “I’d like to thank my parents, Hillary Clinton and God.”

Names: When you mention someone in an article, provide the full name on first reference and then stick to the last name or a nickname for all subsequent references. With some prominent players, especially in the NBA, a first name may stand as a nickname. “LeBron” can work for LeBron James, for example, but “Kevin” cannot work for Kevin Durant. In some cases, you may want to provide the full name again for rhetorical effect or to work around two players sharing the same last name, but the key takeaway here is to use a person’s full name on first reference and never use the first name again unless there’s a good reason.

Proper credit: Don’t rely on parentheses to give the source of your information credit unless you want to give a hat tip to a site for directing your attention to the original source. That original source should still be named and linked in the text. A common scenario for this is a report based on a quote from a radio interview. Example: “According to KFNS radio in St. Louis (h/t, Fisher discounted Bradford’s miserable, injury-plagued 2011 campaign in which he clearly regressed from his rookie season.”

It’s “top 10,” not “Top 10″: When referring to the top 10 (or any other number) of something, whether it’s a stat or your own opinion, don’t capitalize “top.” We only capitalize something like “Top 25″ or “Top 10″ when referring to an official poll like the AP Top 25 poll. Only hyphenate a construction like “top 10″ if it’s lowercase and directly modifying a noun, like “he’s a top-10 quarterback.” Otherwise, it’s “He’s one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league.” If it follows the article “a,” that’s a good indication you need to hyphenate.

Toward, not towards: Words that end in “-ward” (e.g. toward) do not need an S at the end. Same goes for the “-st” in words like “among.”

Long hyperlink strings: Don’t hyperlink more than five non-attributive words when sourcing. Anything more than that tends to look excessive.

Names that end in S: To form a possessive with a word or name that ends in S, only add an apostrophe. For words that end in any other letter in the alphabet or any numeral, add an apostrophe and an S. To be explicit: Names ending in X or Z take an apostrophe and an S. Example: “James’ best game proved to be one of Ramirez’s worst.”

Italicize titles: One big way we differ from AP Style is that we italicize “works” like books, magazines, newspapers and musical albums. Note that we don’t italicize website names, as we view them like company names. Names of chapters, articles and songs should be presented in quotation marks without italicization.

Headline style: Another key difference is our headline style. The AP writes headlines in sentence case, but our style is closer to that of the New York Times, with most words capitalized—always the first and last words of a headline, for example. Not all words, though. While we have an auto-format tool to help with capitalization as you type in the headline field, it isn’t always perfect. Here’s our full guideline:

All words in a headline should be capitalized, with the exception of articles (“a,” “an,” “the”), coordinating conjunctions (“and,” “but,” “or”) and prepositions (e.g. “in,” “vs.”). Note that short nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs (“is,” “it,” “out,” etc.) SHOULD be capitalized. Same goes for the first and last words of a headline—they should always be capitalized, regardless of the part of speech.

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Tim Coughlin is the Editing Manager at Bleacher Report. Content Moderator Nick James contributed to this post.