[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Notes for the Copyeditor

Below is a generic set of notes I put together in 1999 (when I was working on Calculating God).

For a more-recent and much more extensive set of instructions (from 2019), see Notes for the Copyeditor of The Oppenheimer Alternative.

Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.

At the front of each of my novel manuscripts, I now provide these notes for the copyeditor. The copyeditor is the person — often an English-literature grad student looking to pick up a few extra bucks — who is assigned to go over every word and punctuation mark in the manuscript to make sure it conforms to the publisher's standards. Unfortunately, copyeditors can be overzealous, changing things that they have no business changing. The author gets a chance to undo their changes before the book is typeset, but it's a pain having to do that. Since I've been providing these notes, I've had much less trouble with copyeditors capriciously modifying my prose.

Dear Copyeditor: feel free to regularize any deviations from the following standards, but please query me on all other changes.


My standard reference for spelling and word usage is The American Heritage English Dictionary, Third Edition (unabridged), 1992. I consider the choice between legitimate variant spellings (such as "eon" / "aeon" or "adviser" / "advisor" ) to be the author's prerogative, unless a rigid house style has been mandated; if my spelling is in this dictionary without a usage restriction, please don't arbitrarily change it to another form.

Where they disagree, I hold that Strunk and White's The Elements of Style trumps both The Chicago Manual of Style and Words Into Type. If suggesting a change to my usage, please query with CMS section number or Words Into Type page reference.

Unusual Words

It's my contention that both "lifeform" and "airlock" are single words; please leave them as such.


I use serial commas; I use commas before terminal too and around internal too, but I don't use commas with close appositives ("his wife Carolyn").

Except for Biblical names, I form the possessive of names ending in s by adding apostrophe-s. I do not use apostrophes with years when indicating decades (I write "the 1960s," not "the 1960's").

I hyphenate all compound adjectives.

Incomplete Sentences

I use three (never four) periods for ellipsis points; ellipsis in dialog indicates a trailing off (an incomplete sentence, which, since it is incomplete, has no terminal punctuation). Likewise, sentence fragments ending in an em dash (denoting an interruption or abrupt change of thought) are also incomplete, and therefore are not followed by terminal punctuation.


I use italics for:

  • emphasis

  • the titles of publications, movies, and television series

  • some verbatim transcriptions of thoughts, but only where there might be ambiguity about whether the text is thought or narration

  • all non-English words and phrases being consciously used as non-English, and all Latin phrases (which are usually affectations), even if they appear in English dictionaries: "au revoir" and "en route" (French), "a capella" (Italian), and "per se" (Latin) are all italicized. Please note however that I do not italicize foreign-source words that have been wholly co-opted into standard English, and whose usage doesn't constitute an affectation; words such as "milieu" or "liaison" (French) and "trek" (Afrikaans) are not italicized.


"Damn it" is stronger than "dammit." I use both deliberately for specific effect; please do not adjust my usage.


I use lower-case for the first letter in a sentence following a colon.

I do not normally capitalize pronouns referring to God.


I spell out all numbers that begin sentences; spell out zero through one hundred (even when followed by the word "percent"), and use numerals for 101 and beyond, including years ("1997"), their two-digit abbreviations ("'97"), and precise times ("2:00 p.m.").

I do not use apostrophes to pluralize numbers: "1970's" is possessive of the year 1970 ("1970's best novel was . . ."), not a reference to the decade that ran from 1970 to 1979 (I write "the 1970s were a wonderful time").

I never spell out numbers containing decimal points, even in dialog (I use "123.45," never "one hundred and twenty-three point four five").

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Manuscript format checklist
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Essay: WordStar — A Writer's Word Processor

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