JUNE 2019


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This is the land that editors love (and hate), the nitty-gritty of properly punctuating and capitalizing your text. We are literary types and take our inky marks very seriously, so if you want to write for us, be sure you know what an em dash is and what parenthetical means. (You do? Great. Now read on about our eccentricities... )

We are familiar with the Associated Press Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, but we don't take them as law. The former is a bit too casual; the latter is too dictatorial. We love E. B. White’s Elements of Style, but that was written decades ago. So to suit the tone and times of our magazine, we enforce our own stylebook that draws a bit upon each—and what we believe is good judgment.

In other words, when you write for us, please keep the following rules of style in mind and practice:


We relate our stories in present tense when we talk about what the reader can see and experience now, but events that have happened and direct quotes are given in past tense. For example, The house sits atop a small knoll like Miss Muffet on her tuffet. But, George Washington built Mount Vernon solely to please Martha. Or "We chose the higher ground," said property owner Stiles Mandish.


Ours is not an academic magazine, so we do not restrict ourselves to the exclusive use of third-person narration. But be judicious when you stray.

Most of the narration in Early American Life is third person. We are describing events and places, and those events and places become the subject. The Johnstown dam held back the river until one rainy night. Or Most American pewter brings a higher price than English work not only because it was made here but also because it is substantially rarer.

Note, however, Early American Life is meant to be warm, friendly, and familiar. When referring to something that can be experienced or directly to the reader, we avoid the use of third person in stories, especially the stilted use of "one." Do not write, One would find the warm red finish pleasing. Rather try, You would be pleased by the warm red finish. Second person works best because it involves the reader in your story.

If you are an expert in a field making a critical judgment or if a story is based on your own experience, it is natural to use first person as well. Redware patterned with birds is rare, but I found an abundance of it in a little store in East Armpit, Ohio. If you write about a group of which you are a part, please use the plural. We jacked up the house and replaced its foundation.


All good writing is in active voice. Passive voice is for noncommittal wimps and lazybones who don't know or are afraid to find a real subject for their sentences. Yes, we feel strongly about this! Saying something in passive voice like, The house was built in seven weeks slights the reader. The house didn't build itself and saying who did adds power and detail to the story. Give the sentence a real subject and a strong, active verb, and the it says more and says it more powerfully: Immigrant German carpenters struggled for seven weeks to build the house.

We dig into your submissions and extricate the sentences you cast in passive voice. That means we'll be calling you to fill in the missing subjects from those sentences, a process most writers feel as pleasurable as a root canal. Much as we like to joust with our blue pencils, we would prefer to not have to call you. Moreover the more questions we have to call to ask you, the less likely we are to call you with another assignment. Bottom line: avoid passive voice. Really.


In general most numbers should be spelled out.

Spell out:

All numbers between one and twenty (inclusive)

Whole numbers plus hundreds, thousands, millions—two hundred, eight thousand

Rounded numbers—about five hundred people attended

Numbers preceding distance, length, area, volume, etc. — thirty by forty feet, twelve inches (except in captions, below)

Fractions—one-third, two and one-half

Any number that begins a sentence

Exceptions: Use numerals for dimensions and centuries in captions; use in calendar , recipes, etc. to save space.

Use Arabic Numerals:

For a specific number greater than twenty—2,478

To list a series of measurements having both tractions and whole numbers—the paintings measured 8/2 x 11, 16 x 20, and 28/2 x 30, respectively

To list a series of numbers including some both greater and less than one hundred—participants included 125 men, 33 women, and 12 children

With abbreviations and symbols—55 mph, 36"

For percentages and decimals—45 percent, 3.8 million

To indicate volume, chapter, or page numbers (even if the publication being referred to spells them out or uses roman numerals)—volume 2, chapter 8, page 14

To list dimensions— 10"H x 12"W


In first reference, use the full name of each person spelled out. In subsequent references use the last name only, providing it is not ambiguous. If writing about a husband and wife, use first names in subsequent references to avoid ambiguity. A semi-exception: In stories about homes and homeowners, we use first names to make the stories more personal.

Use the name the subject prefers to use and identify himself. Use Robert Smith or Bob Smith depending on what the subject uses.

Unless an honorary title is relevant to the story, do not use honoraria such as Dr. or Hon. before a name or Ph. D. after a name. Mr, Mrs, Ms, and Miss are never appropriate.


Copy from Printed Sources:

Enclose in double quotes " " and type verbatim, with spelling, grammar, and punctuation exactly as it appears in the original.

The only acceptable changes are making single quotes double or vice versa, and altering the end punctuation if quoted material forms only pan of a sentence.

Do not use [sic] to indicate aberrant spellings or meanings. If a word is incomprehensible or missing text needs to be added to make the quotation understood (for example, the quote uses a pronoun and the referent is in earlier, unquoted material), set the modern spelling, clarification, or definition in brackets after the word—my past [paste] comb.

When setting a quote off from text with an extra line space top and bottom and a shorter line length, do not use quote marks unless the copy is dialogue that appears in quotes in the original text.

General Rules:

Do not put quotes around commonly understood words unless the meaning in text conveys slang or irony—She always "works" through lunch, trying to beat the odds at computer solitaire.

Periods and commas always go inside double quotes, even if text is only a single word. Question marks and exclamation points go inside if entire sentence is a quote. Semicolons and colons generally go outside end quote if sentence continues.

Single quotes should be used only for a quote within a quote—"I asked myself, ‘How could you be so stupid?’"—or for plant cultivar names that appear after their Latin family and genus — Ilex decidua ‘Golden Girl’. In plant names, all punctuation goes outside the quotes.


Titles of books, magazines, and newspapers—American Furniture of the 18th Century, Early American Life, New York Times

Titles of movies and long-running television series (enclose specific episode names in quotes) — The Crucible, Hill Street Blues, "Officer Rick Gets Shot"

Names of ships. Note: If USS or HMS appears in the name, it is not italicized—HMS Pinafore

Names of museum exhibitions — Shop Figures of the Nineteenth Century

Foreign words if not in common usage—trompe i’oeil, taufschein

Latin names for family and genus of plants— Ilex decidua. If the family name is used
multiple times, it can be abbreviated—Ilex decidua, I. opaca.


A generic term used in plural form before or after two or more proper names—Dauphin and York Counties, Walnut and Chestnut Streets, the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers

Trademark names—Mylar (however, it is not necessary to use ® or ™ in running text)

Both words of a compound adjective in a headline—Nineteenth-Century Pottery (unless the second part of the compound is an article, preposition, or coordinating conjunction—a, and, the)

Use small caps for dates and to abbreviate a specific time of day, if needed—400 B.C.; 9:15 a.m.

Miscellaneous Punctuation

No apostrophe is needed between a numeral and "s"— 1800s

Use a comma between a book title and the author’s name in bibliographic references

No comma is needed to separate last names from Jr. or Sr. or II

Initials in proper names should have periods between them—J.P. Morgan—unless
common usage has determined otherwise—JFK

Avoid awkward contractions in text when possible

Some frequently used words require accents—appliquéd, papier-mâché

Avoid semi-colons. If a sentence is so complex it requires a semi-colon, try recasting it as two or more sentences.

Few sentences require more than three commas to link clauses. If you have more than three, think about recasting the sentence.

Please no parentheticals within parentheticals. One set of parentheses is usually enough for any sentence.

Em dashes may be used for appositives and parentheticals as appropriate, but please be judicious. Do not put spaces before or after the em dash. He—the King of Siam—wore loose clothing.

In text, we use en dashes (hyphens) rather than parentheses to separate telephone numbers: the area code, a hyphen, the exchange, hyphen, the number. 440-543-8566

In listings, such as Sources, we use periods to separate telephone numbers. 440.543.8566

Word Forms

Compound Adjectives

In forming compound adjectives to modify nouns, there are various rules depending on the parts of speech being used. Consult Chicago Manual of Style for specifics. There are some generalities that can be followed, although there are exceptions even within them. If the word combination is not listed as solid in the dictionary, add a hyphen.

These words used in a compound adjective are hyphenated:

All—an all-inclusive study

Cross—cross-referenced entries

Full —full-length mirror

Half —half-eaten sandwich

High, low, upper, lower, middle—high-pitched scream, upper-story rooms, middle-class families

Quasi—quasi-military group

Sell —self-taught craftsman

Well, ill, better, best, little, lesser, least—well-known author, best-made baskets (Note: these are hyphenated if they precede a noun, open if they follow one, and open if they are modified by an adverb—well-known author, the author was well known, his was the least well known book)

When an adverb ending in "ly" and a participle or an adjective are used together as a compound modifier for a noun, they are never hyphenated—wholly owned subsidiary

When using early, mid, or late with a compound adjective, it should be followed by a hyphen—early-eighteenth-century chair, mid-nineteenth-century table, late-twentieth-century sideboard

The following words nearly always make closed (no hyphen) compound adjectives:

Fold—twofold purpose

Like—catlike quickness (unless the first part of the compound ends in 1, then add a hyphen—jewel-like tones

Mid—midweek conference (except when mid precedes a numeral or proper noun, then add hyphen—mid-1800s, mid-Irish accent)

Over, under—overrated book, underappreciated contribution


These prefixes form closed words—anti, inter, mid, mini, multi, non, pre, re, over, post, under, semi, super—nonprofit, multicolored, reelected, predetermined

Use a hyphen when the prefix comes before a proper noun or numeral—non-American, mid-1800s

Use a hyphen to avoid confusion in the pronunciation of words with repeat vowels—use co-op, not coop

Use a hyphen in homographs (words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings)—re-create means "to make again"; recreate means to relax


Noun-plus-gerund combinations should be set open (two words) if they are not listed in the dictionary as one—wood carving but woodcutting, doll making, basket weaving


List ingredients in order of usage according to directions.

Be as concise as possible, eliminating articles and using numerals in text.

Be consistent in use of ranges of numerals—bake 40-50 minutes, serves 10-12.

Try to list pan sizes, baking times, and serving sizes for all recipes.

Be aware of terms that have accents or other diacritical marks—jalapeño, sauté, purée, crème brûlé.

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