Reality Check

When you read the term “fact checking,” it probably makes you think of modern, political fact-checkers who analyze claims and rate them as true or false, often cherry-picking sources who support their own biases.

By contrast, fact checking in the publishing industry is an important part of writing and editing nonfiction content, as well as some fiction content, such as historical fiction and fiction that references factual people, events, and places. A conscientious author who values the truth will fact check as part of their research and writing process or hire an editor to assist them. The editor will investigate names, places, dates, events, etc., to verify spelling and accuracy of the information.

Often, first-time or self-published authors make the mistake of thinking that fact checking is unnecessary, or that no one will ever notice if they don’t fact check. In truth, when readers or reviewers notice lazy editing or the lack of fact checking, they will very likely post or publish negative feedback or reviews, which will affect an author’s reputation and discourage potential buyers from purchasing their books. In some situations, authors may also face libel and legal issues.

What type of content should be fact-checked?

  • names of factual people, towns, streets, geographical locations
  • titles of factual books and publications
  • names of factual brands, companies, and products
  • factual technical and medical terms and procedures
  • direct quotations* of words spoken or published by factual people

*Direct quotations should be repeated exactly as they were originally spoken or published and surrounded by double quotation marks both before and after. When paraphrasing someone’s words, don’t use quotation marks. In both cases, however, the source of the quotation should be referenced either within the text, in a parenthetical citation, or on a references page/bibliography at the back of the book. Even well-known quotes should be investigated as they are frequently misquoted or misattributed.

For historical fiction, also verify:

  • existence and usage of specific technologies
  • historical terminology** and culture

**Language changes over time, and often the meaning and usage of some words changes from one era to the next. Unless your book involves time travel, using modern idioms or inserting modern culture in a historical fiction book set in past centuries is lazy and makes setting a realistic and believable scene virtually impossible.

Depending on experience or specialty, not all editors fact check. If your manuscript contains the type of content mentioned in this article, be sure to ask your editor in advance whether they provide fact-checking. Including a disclaimer on the copyright page is also recommended—one that is tailored specifically to your book. Even the most rigorous research can be fallible, but if an author puts in the effort to verify their book content’s accuracy according to the information that is available, they can be confident they are not intentionally publishing incorrect content.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever discovered any glaring errors related to factual people or events in any books you’ve read.

Drawing Lines

HYPHENS and DASHES are the most misused punctuation marks in the English language after commas, in my experience. Have you ever noticed that some writers refuse to use them, while others sprinkle them willy-nilly throughout their work without any apparent logic or reason? Many confuse hyphens with dashes, or think they are interchangeable. In fact, hyphens are not dashes and they each have specific uses.

Let’s get into it.

Why do we insert these horizontal little lines in our writing in the first place? Essentially, their purpose is to clarify phrases or sentences that would likely be misunderstood without them. If you compare the pairs of examples below, you will see how the meaning of a sentence can be changed depending on if or how hyphens or dashes are used.

The Hendersons brought their three-year-old sons to the doctor’s office. (hyphens)
(twins who are 3 years old)
The Hendersons brought their three year-old sons to the doctor’s office. (hyphen)
(triplets who are 1 year old)
My great-aunt, as well as Aunt Lucy, came to the family reunion. (hyphen)
(father/mother’s aunt plus father/mother’s sister Lucy)
My great aunt, as well as Aunt Lucy, came to the family reunion. (no hyphen)
(father/mother’s wonderful sister plus father/mother’s sister Lucy who might not be wonderful)
Small-business owners in the construction industry are often discriminated against. (hyphen)
(owners of small businesses)
Small business owners in the construction industry are often discriminated against. (no hyphen)
(business owners who are short or petite)
Her husband will discuss the check—in process as we speak—with the hotel manager. (em dashes)
(Her husband is discussing the check at this moment with the hotel manager as planned.)
Her husband will discuss the check-in process as we speak with the hotel manager. (hyphen)
(Her husband plans to discuss the process for checking into the hotel while some other individuals speak with the hotel manager.)
He attempted to re-collect his scattered thoughts. (hyphen)
(become calm and rational again)
He attempted to recollect his scattered thoughts. (no hyphen)
(remember fading thoughts)
I prefer the Monday-Friday schedule. (hyphen)
(Mondays and Fridays only)
I prefer the Monday – Friday schedule. (en dash)
(Monday through Friday)

In handwritten text, hyphens and dashes are mainly identifiable by how they are used, not by size, because of the wide variation in people’s handwriting styles. But in printed text, length matters, as well as how each one is used within the text.

Below, the hyphen and dashes are shown in order of width along with ways to insert them in your text.

* Use the hyphen key to the right of the number zero on the numbers row.
En Dash
* Type a word/number, type a space, type the hyphen key, type a space, type another word/number, type a space (AutoFormat inserts the en dash in Word).
* Enable Num Lock, use shortcut key combination: Ctrl plus the minus key on the numeric keypad.
* Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters > select En Dash > Insert > Close
Em Dash
* Type a word, type two hyphens, type another word, type a space (AutoFormat changes the hyphens into an Em Dash)
* Enable Num Lock, use shortcut key combination: Ctrl plus Alt plus the minus key on the numeric keypad.
* Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters > select Em Dash > Insert > Close
When to use a hyphen

Connecting two or more words and numbers to form one idea

absent-minded professorfull-length movie
fast-moving vehicleowner-operator of a business
six-hour drivethirty-four-year-old man
She spoke matter-of-factly about her sandwich
over-the-counter medicinecase-by-case approach

Connecting last names of spouses (double surname)

Sarah Bennett-Johnson waved at me from across the street.
I invited Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza-Harris to the dinner party.

Connecting the ten’s place and one’s place in numbers from 21 to 99 when written as words


Writing telephone numbers, account numbers, serial numbers, part numbers, model numbers, etc.

Call 1-800-867-5309
Product serial number: A123-B456-C789-D012

Dividing words that start at the end of one line and end at the beginning of the next line (Typically, words are not hyphenated at the end of three consecutive lines; these are hyphenated for demonstration purposes only.)

Portion of book text displaying 3 hyphenated words appearing at the end of separate lines

Signifying a missing or inferred part of a hyphenated word (suspended/hanging hyphen); *I typically try to avoid these by rewording the sentence or including two complete hyphenated words.

Fifteen- and twenty-year contracts are subject to lower fees.
She selected the highest- and next-highest-scoring groups for the final round.
The study included English- and Spanish-speaking participants.

Adding prefixes (check a dictionary if you’re not sure whether a hyphen is needed)

mid-eightiesmid-Atlantic states
all-knowing oracleall-encompassing solution
They gave their all, knowing the finish line was near.allowed
re-sent (sent again)re-sign (sign again)
resent (begrudge)resign (give up, quit)

Creating fractions with compound adjectives

Add two-thirds of a cup of sugar.
The prize of a half-million dollars is up for grabs.

Representing the minus sign when writing negative numbers and subtracting

204=16 (AutoFormat will change the hyphen to an en dash when spaces are added, though)
5 degrees Fahrenheit
When NOT to use a hyphen (or dash)

When the modifier/adjective comes after the noun

Her students were well informed about the rules.
The house was poorly lit.

When combining an adverb with an adjective or participle

greatly anticipated event
very helpful instructions
horribly executed strategy

For open and closed compound words

Chocolate ice cream is my favorite dessert.(noun; open)
White House staff roles have been restructured.(adjective, open)
She offered to proofread my manuscript.(verb, closed)
The cover of my notebook was covered with stickers.(noun, closed)
When to use an EN dash (width of an N)

Connecting numbers or words to indicate a range, score, time period, or distance not introduced with the word “from”; replaces the word “to” or “through” (AutoFormat adds a space before and after, but they are not necessary)

These books are for children ages 5 – 8.
The Bandits won the game with a score of 10 – 9.
The Age of Enlightenment was approximately 1685–1815.
This company’s work week is Monday – Saturday.

For clarity when compound adjectives include an open compound word

Roaring Twenties–style fashion was all the rage. (no spaces around en dash)
Teachers provided some high school–level reading material. (no spaces around en dash)
When to use an EM dash (width of an M)

Before and after parenthetical and explanatory expressions

John packed all his camping supplies—tent, stove, food, dishes, and chairs—in the trunk.
The United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.

After a list that comes at the beginning of a sentence

Guitar, ukulele, banjo—I want to learn how to play all of them!

Indicating an interruption or change in thought (informal writing)

My order was for a BLT—not a turkey club sandwich.
He’s running to the corner with—what is he doing now?

Indicating interrupted dialogue

Dorothy rambled on. “I just don’t understand why—”
“Please stop!” exclaimed Jen, exasperated.
“He should be here any—”
“Oh good,” Luke said, interrupting, “he just arrived.”

I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible. If you’re ever unsure whether a word or phrase should be hyphenated, check a dictionary or grammar book. If you feel this post is missing any important hyphen/dash rules or examples, please let me know in the comments.

Fuzzy Details

Vague language leaves readers with too many questions, unsure about what the author is describing or explaining. Imprecise language also tends to be bland compared to a well-written narrative. Precise yet vivid language creates a clearer picture of the scene in readers’ minds. The difference between the two can be compared to the difference between looking through a wet, dirty textured glass window and looking through a dry, clean plate glass window. Brevity may often be lauded as the “soul of wit,” but only if the writer hasn’t sacrificed clarity and imagination in the process.

Read through your manuscript out loud and try to put yourself in the mind of a fresh reader who doesn’t have any background information, doesn’t know what’s going to happen later, and is reading it for the first time. When you refer to a character or location, will your reader know who or where you’re talking about? Will they have to reread a few pages to find out? Will they just have to remain in the dark and hopefully make the connection later?

Below are six examples of both fiction and nonfiction narrative that is vague or confusing. Possible questions the author might address to clarify the content are listed next. Following the questions for each example, the content is rewritten in more specific and expressive language.

She reached down to grab a pot and fill it with water.

Questions the author might address: Was the pot on the floor or in the cupboard? What type of pot was it? How big was it? Did she fill it from the faucet or a water bottle?

Rewritten: She bent down to pull open the cupboard door and reached in to grasp the handle of a medium-sized pot. She carried it to the sink and twisted the faucet handle to run the cold water.

I saw the kitten go up to my new boss and lick him. Nick took him to the kitchen.

Questions the author might address: How did the kitten go up to Nick (new boss)? How did Nick react? What else did Nick do?

Rewritten: Out of the corner of my eye, I barely caught a glimpse of the tiny black shadow that streaked across the floor to slide comically into a heap in front of my new employer. Nick’s face lit up and he bent down to scoop up the kitten, who was now purring furiously and trying to lick any part of his human that he could reach. Chuckling, Nick carried him into the kitchen, setting his laptop case down on a chair, and a few pieces of mail on the dining table.

After pressing the numbers, I heard the lock click, then went inside. I entered the wrong code, then did it right, and disabled the alarm.

Questions the author might address: How many numbers were in the code? Did she enter the code inside or outside or both? How much time did she have to enter it correctly? How did she know the code was wrong? How did she react?

Rewritten: After pressing each of the six numbers carefully, I heard the lock click, then grasped the curved handle. I pushed the door open then closed it behind me. A duplicate keypad was on the far wall of the foyer, and I crossed quickly to enter the same code within ninety seconds to disarm the alarm. After screwing it up the first time, the keypad flashed red accusingly at me. Anticipating the blaring alarm, ready to cover my ears, I cursed and entered the code correctly.

When I read the scene that takes place at the ball, I picture the ballroom, dancers, and musicians in my mind. Everything is beautiful and I wish I was there.

Questions the book reviewer might address: What does this ballroom look like? How can this beautiful scene be described in more detail? How does it make the reviewer feel? Why should readers care?

Rewritten: When I read the scene that takes place at the ball, it transports me to a fanciful ballroom, where I find myself gliding effortlessly around to a waltz, in the arms of a debonair, masterful dancer. The décor is fabulous and twinkly, and the ladies’ gowns are voluminous and dreamy. The musicians are flawless, and the sonatas and concertos surround us. Time is suspended, and cares float away.

Unsurprisingly, the discovery of this diagnosis allowed physicians to label women as unfit to handle stress—an argument to limit their exposure to work or education.

Questions the author might address: Did the doctors say that women were unable to handle any amount of stress? What type of diagnosis is being discussed? Was the argument actually used in this way or was it only intended to be used in this way?

Rewritten: Unsurprisingly, the discovery of this new, universal diagnosis allowed physicians to label women as unfit to handle excessive stress—an argument exploited to limit their exposure to work or education.

Today, twenty-seven percent of all funding for energy R&D is spent on nuclear energy.

Questions the author might address: Was the funding by the US, a group of countries, or worldwide? Was it federal or private funding? What timeframe is the statistic from?

Rewritten: In 2016, twenty-seven percent of U.S. federal funding for energy R&D was spent on nuclear energy.

He Said, She Thought

Written literature contains two types of dialogue, spoken and internal.

For the sake of defining terms, spoken dialogue refers to audible speech—words spoken by a character out loud. Internal dialogue refers to thoughts that are not spoken out loud. The majority of this article discusses spoken dialogue and addresses internal dialogue at the end. These rules apply to most non-academic fiction and nonfiction works; academic requirements for citations are NOT addressed as citation styles vary greatly in this regard.

I’ve done my best to list and explain rules about presentation of and punctuation in spoken dialogue. My article only discusses American English rules. UK English rules about quotations differ. 

I’ll start with the two most important rules:

  • Surround spoken dialogue (quotes) with double quotation marks.
  • When the person who is speaking repeats something that someone else said, place single quotation marks around the repeated words. These are often referred to as quotes within a quote.

Harry explained, “After I gave her the flowers, she said, ‘Thanks so much!’ and kissed me.”

“But what if she says, ‘No’?” he asked.

  • Always end dialogue with one of the following: comma, period, question mark, exclamation mark, dashes, or ellipsis; directly followed by double quotation marks. The ending quotation marks go after whichever ending punctuation mark is used.
  • Speech tags introducing dialogue should be followed by a comma.
  • When dialogue is broken up by narrative or speech tags, double quotation marks are still inserted before and after each instance of dialogue, leaving the non-dialogue outside the quotation marks.
  • The first word of dialogue in a sentence should always start with an uppercase letter. Non-dialogue words in the middle of a sentence should only be capitalized if they are proper nouns (e.g., Charles, Saturday, Don Quixote).

Following are a few examples showing how each type of punctuation should be used in spoken dialogue in combination with quotation marks.

“I will set the table,” said John. (comma)

Michelle stated, “Dinner will be ready soon.” (period)

John asked, “What’s for dinner?” with a smile. (question mark)

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” said Michelle, smirking. (exclamation mark)

“Holy hell, wo–” John began, before she interrupted him. (dashes)

“Don’t even think about it…” Michelle shot him a warning look. (ellipsis)

A speech tag labels dialogue. Speech tags identify the speaker and occasionally describe their manner of speech. In the following examples, speech tags are in bold text.

Joe answered, “Yes, of course.”

“Why?” asked Chloe.

“Because I said so,” replied Mom.

“Don’t wake up the baby,” whispered Mary.

“Come back here!” he yelled angrily at Mike.

Mike said, “I’ll be back later.”

  • For extended dialogue by a single person that is divided into multiple paragraphs, do not include quotation marks at the end of every paragraph—only insert them at the end of the dialogue in the final paragraph.
  • When switching between more than one person’s spoken dialogue, start a new paragraph for each person’s dialogue, no matter how little they might say.

One exception to the new paragraph/new person rule may include when several people talk at once either in unison or over one another in rapid fire. If a group is speaking the same words in unison, their words would be treated as dialogue from a single person, and speech tags could be used to explain the situation.

  • If several people in the story are talking over one another or saying different things all at once, this can be represented in various ways:
    • Write dialogue for each person in a separate paragraph, identifying each one, and using double quotation marks as usual.
    • Surround each person’s dialogue separately with quotation marks, one after another, in the same paragraph. Do not identify each speaker but refer to them collectively in a speech tag.
    • Describe the situation and dialogue without quoting anyone’s exact words, and without using quotation marks. Refer to the group collectively or identify everyone involved.

Dialogue should allow readers to hear the speaker’s words. If the speaker pronounces a word unusually, this should be indicated in some way by changing the spelling, etc.

  • Words should be used instead of abbreviations or symbols in dialogue.

“Okay, Mister peeerrrrfect,” she responded sarcastically.

“Peez make me a gill-cheese sammitch, mama,” Lucy pleaded.

  • In most cases, numbers in dialogue should be expressed in words instead of numerals.

Exceptions may include four-digit years, long series of numbers, a full telephone number, or product and brand names that include numbers. For a helpful, detailed article about writing numbers in both dialogue and narrative, visit I refer to it whenever I have a question about number rules in writing.

Following are just a few examples of how numbers can be expressed in dialogue.

“I think he was born in sixty-eight.”

“She only paid thirty-five bucks for it.”

“Yesterday, it was over ninety degrees outside.”

“She just called number twenty-two.”

“The shortest player is six foot one and a half.”

“You owe me four hundred and ten dollars.”

“The show starts at seven o’clock at night.”

“I just bought an Xbox 360 for seventy-five dollars.” (Xbox 360 is a product name)

  • Direct internal dialogue is generally indicated with italics, never with quotation marks. Some authors choose to use a different font or style for direct internal dialogue instead of italics. Direct internal dialogue is always expressed in first person because it is stating the exact words that a person is thinking.
  • Indirect internal dialogue is not italicized because it is not stating the exact words that a person is thinking.

She stared in horror at the scene ahead. What the heck was I thinking? she wondered. —direct

He thought of all of the possible scenarios awaiting him. —indirect

I hung up the phone angrily. How dare he? Who does he think he is? —direct

After all of the favors I’d done for her in the past, I thought that she owed me. —indirect

Please let me know in the comments if this article was helpful to you or if you think of any important rules I may have left out. Let’s start a dialogue, shall we?

Bucket List

Nonfiction books and instruction booklets often contain numerous lists. Lists are helpful for displaying information in an organized, easy-to-read format. They are great for prioritizing as well as categorizing products and services.

Bucket List Types of Buckets

  • Mop bucket
  • Window washer bucket
  • Beach sand bucket
  • Hotel ice bucket
  • Storage bucket
  • Old, beat-up vehicle
  • Successful basketball shot

When making a list, several aspects are important to consider.

After creating a rough draft of your list, first review the title or intro to the listed items. Pinpoint the basic category in which all of your list items fit. Notice that I’ve underlined the base word in each of the following list titles that identifies what every item in a list with that title would have in common.

  1. Why an author writes a book                             
  2. The only twelve exercises you need to get in shape    
  3. Top ten video game characters
  4. Ten steps to starting a small business
  5. Countries that border only one other country

Therefore, the first list would include a list of reasons, not a list of book titles or genres. List number two would include a list of exercises, not a list of equipment or ways to get in shape. The third list would include characters from video games, not titles of video games. The next list would include actions, not a list of occupations or expenses. And the final list would include countries, not continents or provinces.

General rules
Now review each item on your list, making sure that

  • all items fit the list title or category,
  • all items are specific and complete,
  • verb tenses are consistent for items that involve actions,
  • prepositions are used properly,
  • only essential items are included, and
  • redundancy is avoided.

If your content/writing is intentionally humorous, some of these rules might not apply, but all items should at least fit the list category.

Next, I provide several examples of lists to demonstrate how these rules can be applied.

Notice the subtle differences between the first two lists, even though both are about the same subject. I’ve underlined the base word in each title. The first list includes resolutions or statements about what the writer has resolved to do. Each item completes the thought, “I resolve to ______.”   The second list includes actions that complete the thought, “I plan on ______.” The verbs in this list end in ‑ing because each phrase directly follows the proposition “on.”

New Year’s Resolutions
Lose weight
Get organized
Save money
Quit smoking
Fall in love
Eat healthier
Exercise more
This year, I plan on
losing weight
getting organized
saving money
quitting smoking
falling in love
eating healthier
exercising more

In the following two lists, the first one is a list of reasons or motivations. If you asked an author why they wrote their book, their responses would begin with either “to” or “for.” So, each item is prefaced with the appropriate preposition. The second list contains actions that books may accomplish. So, each item begins with a verb and completes the thought, “Books can _____.”

Each list includes items that follow all of the rules noted above. Notice, however, that items are NOT interchangeable between the two list titles/categories.

Why an author writes a book
To tell a story
To teach a skill
To educate
To entertain
To express ideas
For personal fulfillment
For fame and fortune
Books can
tell a story
teach a skill
express ideas
provide personal fulfillment
lead to fame and fortune

For the next list, problems are noted directly underneath each item.

What does a book editor do?

  • Read various types of books
    • non-essential; delete
  • Correct grammar and spelling
    • verb tense
  • Punctuation and spacing
    • doesn’t fit title
  • To improve awkward, confusing language
    • preposition, verb tense
  • Replaces overused or non-descriptive words
    • verb tense
  • Charge based on word count
    • doesn’t fit new category; delete
  • Provide feedback
    • not specific, incomplete
  • Advice about plot, setting, characterization, dialogue
    • verb tense
  • Research titles, names and quotations
    • verb tense, incomplete
  • Correct verb tense inconsistencies
    • redundant; delete (correcting verb tenses = grammar)

After corrections, here’s the new list:

Essential Book Editing Services

  • Correcting grammar and spelling
  • Correcting punctuation and spacing
  • Rephrasing awkward or confusing language
  • Replacing overused or non-descriptive words
  • Providing feedback about tone, organization, and structure.
  • Providing feedback about plot, setting, characterization, and dialogue
  • Researching accuracy of titles, names and quotations

All of these examples demonstrate various ways in which lists can be greatly improved for clarity.

To learn about proper list punctuation, check out the following links:

There Are Dummies


[Before rightfully denouncing the post title, please continue reading — thanks so much!] 

Starting sentences with “There is/are” or “There was/were” is rarely recommended and usually unnecessary. (The same applies to beginning sentences with “It is/was.”)

Beginning a sentence in this way amounts to stating that a thing or things exist(s), then proceeding to say what you want to say about those things. It’s unnecessary to state that something exists because once you describe the thought or action involving this thing, you are already automatically stating that it exists (Yes, that sentence was painful to write…). Doing this twice in a sentence is not only redundant but shifts the focus from the main thought or idea to the establishment of the existence of whatever the subject of the sentence is.

Compare these examples:

Wrong: There was a duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer, and I quickly crossed to enter the same code.

Correct: I quickly crossed to the duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer and entered the same code.

In the original sentence, the subject appears to be the keypad instead of the character in the story. In the rewritten sentence, the focus is now on the character’s actions. 

Another set of examples:

Wrong: There were faint sounds of tires in the driveway that caused her pulse to race in anticipation.

Correct: The faint sound of tires in the driveway tickled her ears, and her pulse raced in anticipation.

The original sentence is awkward. The rewritten sentence allows the reader to put themselves in the character’s shoes and is much more interesting.

Starting sentences with “There” is a demonstration of using a dummy subject. Writers should avoid dummy subjects because they weaken their writing, making it vague and indistinct. In the examples above, “There” replaced the subjects of the sentences. However, that was unnecessary because we know what the subjects are. If you know what the subject is, then the subject shouldn’t be replaced.

Grammar refresher:

  • Subject: performs the action in a sentence – always a noun (person, place, thing) or a pronoun (replaces a noun: he, she, it, they, that, I)
  • Object: receives the action in a sentence
  • Verb: the action performed or received

The only acceptable exceptions would include sentences in which the subject is unknown, or dialogue that involves answering a question or giving directions. For example, if the purpose of the sentence is to state that something or someone is doing something, but you don’t know who or what is actually performing the action, then it would make sense to start with, “There is/are” or “There was/were.”

Reviewing your work and rewording sentences that begin with unnecessary dummy subjects is one of many ways to liven up and strengthen your writing. I find the need to do this with my own writing on a regular basis.

Let me know what you think in the comments!