Hy-phen-a-tion: How a Teeny Weeny Line Can Make a Huge Impact

Almost all traditionally published books and eBooks are justified – i.e. a computer program varies the width of the spaces between the words such that the right and left edges of the text are aligned. Books that are instead aligned left are said to be “ragged right” because they are not aligned at the right.

Left-aligned books often give an impression that the work is amateurish. Many new writers do this intentionally because they don’t like the gaps that they see between words when the text is justified (others do this accidentally, simply using Word’s default settings). On the other hand, setting the alignment to left doesn’t remove the gaps – it simply puts the spaces at the end of the line instead of spreading them out between the words. Book designers and editors prefer the look of justified text.

Large spaces in justified text do pose a formatting problem. There is, however, a simple way to reduce them: hyphenation.

Manually hyphenating a word at the end of a line where the gaps are large reduces the gaps. Don’t hyphenate manually until the manuscript is complete, edited, revised, and perfected. Otherwise, after revisions to the text, words that had been hyphenated may no longer appear at the end of a line, and new lines may need to be hyphenated. Consult a dictionary to find the natural breaks between the syllables.

Watch out for Word’s AutoCorrect tool: If this tool is on, one or both fragments of the word may automatically be respelled when the hyphen is inserted. For example, if a hyphen is inserted in the word “invented” to make “inven-ted,” Word will change this to “invent-ted.” Why? Because Word sees this as two separate words, “inven” and “ted.” Word automatically corrects (so it thinks!) the spelling of “inven” to make “invent.”

It isn’t actually necessary to hyphenate manually. Microsoft Word, for example, has an automatic hyphenation feature that can be activated. In Word 2010, find this on the Page Layout tab.

When using Word’s hyphenation tool, go into Hyphenation Options and increase the Hyphenation Zone to about 0.3” to 0.4”. Otherwise, there will be hyphens all over the place (including headings that span multiple lines).

Those who have used WordPerfect and Word may be aware that WordPerfect’s hyphenation is aesthetically a little more appealing. But it’s not necessary to buy WordPerfect: Word actually has an option to hyphenate like WordPerfect. In Word 2010, go to the File tab, scroll down below Help to find Options, select Advanced, click Layout Options at the bottom of the list, and search for the line that starts, “Do full justification…”

Note that Word won’t hyphenate words that its dictionary doesn’t recognize. It’s necessary to search for lines where it may be possible to hyphenate a word at the end of a line for which Word doesn’t have a hyphenation key.

Also making an eBook? If so, it’s necessary to make a different edition of the file without hyphenation. Therefore, any manually hyphenated words must have their hyphens removed. Some eReaders actually hyphenate words for the reader, but not the Kindle. Since an eReader can have a large font and a small screen, the gaps on justified text are nicely reduced on the screen when the device automatically hyphenates it for the reader.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Blogging Style

Checking out one another’s blogs, we see that we have unique blogging styles. Some bloggers have a very clear blogging brand. Do you recognize some bloggers just from a glimpse of the heading and picture, without having to check out the photo or name to see who posted it? These bloggers have already established a recurring theme, such that all of their posts look similar.

Have you ever visited a blog where a quick inspection of the homepage tells you precisely what the blogger does besides blogging? Sometimes, it’s obvious that a blogger has a hobby of photographing landscapes or that the blogger loves to write children’s books, yet there is no advertisement. These bloggers have developed themes that clearly match their passions.

Are there any bloggers where you know in advance what to expect from their posts? Maybe they always post poems, quotes, jokes, or essays. These bloggers have achieved a brand through consistency.

Do you know any bloggers who show variety in their posts and often surprise you? Their creativity might arouse your curiosity.

With every award nomination, bloggers post a list of other blogs that they like. I would like to thank those of you who have nominated my humble blog. Awards might not be my thing, but I was thinking, I can still share some blogs that I like. It shouldn’t take an award to get us to acknowledge some other blogs and what we like about them, right?

There are many blogs that I like, and thousands of good ones that I have yet to discover. Please allow me to highlight a few that exemplify a variety of blogging styles (since that is that theme of this post), and please don’t be offended if I didn’t mention your blog. Chances are that I really like your blog, too, even if it’s not on this list (and if I’m a follower or occasionally like your posts, that is, in fact, the case – because I only like and follow when I truly like the blog).

There are also a few blogs that look very nice, but which I don’t choose to like or follow because they primarily involve a topic, sometimes controversial or adult-oriented, which I generally don’t read. It’s not because I dislike these blogs, they just don’t happen to coincide with my interests. I hope you understand. I always check out the blog of anyone who checks out my blog.

Again, this is not a contest where I’m ranking my favorite blogs. I picked a few blogs that happen to represent varied styles. If your blog isn’t on this list, it’s not because I don’t enjoy it very much and it’s not because it’s not among my favorites.

(1) I recently discovered Ashley Bollinger’s blog. Check out the consistency in the style of headings that she uses on her homepage. One of her recent posts includes tips for better blogging.


(2) Robert’s blog consistently features some cool geometric objects.


(3) There are several poetry blogs that I follow where the artwork and poetry are both amazing (in my humble opinion). For example, look for one of the poems posted on Keli’s blog to see powerful emotions correlated between the image and the poem.


(4) Julie Farrell has a very positive blog. The internet and world can certainly benefit from more people spreading positivity like this.


(5) Nhan-Fiction often posts little motivational statements that can help provide some needed inspiration.


(6) Natalia Marks features nice photography. She often has a picture of the day.


(7) Mandy Eve Barnett usually starts out with a definition, which gives her style a little signature.


There are many other blogs that I regularly enjoy, too. Remember, my goal was to show some variety, not to list all of my favorites.

Grammar Style (Short ‘n’ Fun)

End a sentence with a preposition if you want to.

Commas, use them, frequently, if you like.

Don’t be afraid to use a semicolon; write without fear.

Occasionally, use an -ly adverb when carefully constructing sentences, even though you’re generally supposed to avoid using them unnecessarily.

Is it a hospital or an hospital? a R.S.V.P. or an R.S.V.P.? a @ sign or an @ sign?

I left him lying next to her pronoun because it was you that expected us to confuse them this way.

The object of this sentence is the subject, but that’s okay because the verb “to be” doesn’t take an object.

It is I, not me. Now use me, not I.

Tom looked at Bob. He winked. Tom wasn’t sure if Tom or Bob was supposed to wink. They went to the screenwriter for clarification.

Fragments. Useful. Sometimes.

This sentence was becoming very interesting until (a parenthetical remark appeared out of nowhere).

Hy-phen-ate – add a dash.

Punctuate (your) sentences “most ‘properly’”: Otherwise, your readership will complain; or worse – they might…

Mind your %$&# language!



mIxInG iT uP: wHaT’s WrOnG wItH tHaT?

Don’t reck’n ’twas s’posed t’nclude s’many ’postrophes ‘n’ c’ntr’ct’ns.

Matter order not does.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)

Editing/Formatting Checklist

Here is a list of what to look for when editing and formatting a book.

Formatting checklist for a paperback book:

  • Same style and size of headers, footers, and page numbers throughout.
  • Chapter headers on even-numbered pages match the actual chapter headings.
  • Pages are numbered correctly and the style is consistent throughout the book (except for switching from Roman numerals to Arabic numbers).
  • Look for strange page breaks, line breaks, changes in alignment, changes in font style or size, inconsistent indents, and inconsistent vertical spacing.
  • Check the page references in the contents and index.
  • Match the contents entries with the chapter headings.
  • Consistent heading and subheading styles.
  • Check that all references to pages, figures, tables, equations, etc. are correct.
  • Consistent bullet formatting.
  • Examine page borders, figures, equations, tables, captions, and textboxes.
  • Quickly thumb through the book to verify the vertical justification.
  • Manually deal with hyphens, widows, orphans, and rivers when editing is complete.

Editing checklist for a paperback book:

  • Inspect the title page carefully.
  • Match the title and contributors on the cover, spine, title page, and copyright page with published information.
  • Check copyright page and front matter carefully.
  • Spelling and grammatical mistakes, and word confusion (like homophones).
  • Repeated words like the the (can also search on the word processor).
  • Punctuation, like proper use of -, –, and —.
  • Storyline, plot, character development, chronology, etc.
  • Quotes face the right way.
  • Inappropriate changes in tense and person.
  • Passive writing that may function better as active writing.
  • Too many –ly adverbs.
  • Too much use of to be (is, was, been, etc.).
  • Useless words and redundancies.
  • Overused words.
  • Long paragraphs, good variation in sentence length and structure, readily flowing text.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers


Go go go go, slow, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w, slow, fastfastfast; break away, slow, pause, stop. Go go go (aside) go go go – tangent – go go go stop.

State. Exclaim! SHOUT! whisper. Question? “Quote, ‘Quote within unquote,’ unquote,” end.


Useless Words

Although it may not seem like it at first, this article actually does have a point. In the beginning, that point is made indirectly, yet by example, whereas toward the end, the point will become directly clear. In a way, it is a sort of mystery, dropping a few subtle clues, which will (hopefully) seem to be obvious when revealed later.

Yes indeed, the matter is plain to see, right before your eyes, under your nose, just waiting for you to grab it (so just reach out and take it, please). If you haven’t guessed it yet – the point of this article, that is – keep trying. There will certainly be many more opportunities to do so. Absolutely, positively!

Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve already figured it out. Well, if you’re presently thinking that the entire article is wastefully useless, that’s not it. (This entire article might actually, in fact, be useless, but that’s not the point that this article is trying to make.) But the title of the article is a hint, and it doesn’t just relate to this article, but to the process of writing in general.

Spoiler alert: Ready or not, here comes the answer. The point is that most writers have a natural tendency to include many useless words in their writing (without even knowing it). Realizing which types of words may be useless can impact our writing and our revising.

So which words are useless? There are many kinds of useless words and phrases.

One type is a tautology. For example, “wastefully useless” is redundant. There are also other sorts of redundancies in meaning. The first two sentences are repetitive with “at first” and “in the beginning,” for instance.

Another sort of word that can be wasteful is an adverb. Stephen King said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” One school of thought about writing suggests to avoid using adverbs that end with -ly (as opposed to a few that don’t, like “well”). For example, consider “directly clear” in the first paragraph. Was it really helpful to include the word “directly”? The end of the second paragraph, “absolutely, positively,” combines these two ideas together with redundant adverbs.

Sometimes, adverbs do add meaning, but when they do, it is often passively rather than actively. For instance, “she returned to her bedroom sadly” tells that she was sad, whereas “she wiped the tears from her eyes on her way to the bedroom” shows that she was sad.

Various forms of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, been, etc.) also tend to tell rather than show, and can also be useless words. I could easily remove “to be” from “seem to be obvious” in the first paragraph. Replacement of the verb “to be” may mean removing a couple of short words in favor of a few longer words. For example, compare “it is very cold today” with “although he wore a thick jacket, a scarf, a ski hat, and mittens, he was still shivering.”

Some words and phrases are essentially filler – that is, the same information can often be conveyed without using them. (It’s true! See!) Check out the very first word of this article: although. Others used in this article include “that,” “whereas,” “in fact,” “in general,” and “as opposed to.”

Comments in parentheses and footnotes can distract (like this one, which interrupts the flow of the sentence) the reader. This is necessary to insert a note that may be helpful to many readers, but sometimes the note may not really be needed or there may be an alternative to interrupting the text.

I’m not saying to eliminate every use of “is” and “was,” remove all adverbs that end with -ly, never write a passive sentence, or completely avoid filler words and comments. Each of these can be used effectively in moderation, and some may help to develop your sense of style. However, it may be fun to look at some of your writing and see if you tend to use any useless words. If you see that you do, you might consider what alternatives you may have had. In the end, you might be happy with it the way it is, but at least you’ll know that those words are there.

Let me acknowledge Pat Fitzhugh’s article, called “Three Simple Writing Tips,” which helped to inspire my article. I recommend checking out:


Chris McMullen, self-published author of Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

Those Silly Short Lines

A hyphen or a dash. Short dash, long dash. Those silly short lines.

We all know that the hyphen (-) is used to hy-phen-ate, and we all know that the short line is used to do this, so it should be easy to remember that the short line is a hyphen and the long line is a dash. Yet we sometimes forget. (It really doesn’t help that there are two types of dashes, each different from a hyphen.)

The keyboard just has a hyphen. No dash. You can easily make a dash in Microsoft Word. With Word’s AutoFormat as you type feature turned on, type two hyphens consecutively mid-sentence, like this – and they turn into a dash.

The better way to make the dash is to hold down the Alt button while typing 0150. Why does it matter? If you publish an e-book that you typed in Word, it might make a difference.

The downloadable Kindle previewer (said to be more reliable than the online previewer) with Device set to e-Ink device and Kindle Selected, for example, might show a box in place of a dash made from Word’s AutoFormat feature. Use the Alt method to produce the symbol without AutoFormat. (That’s for those of us who cling to the convenience of Word. The safer way is to learn how to properly modify the HTML.)

The en dash (–) is just one of two common dashes. The other is the em dash (—). Hold down Alt and type 0151 to make the em dash. It’s said to be good form to choose one dash or the other and be consistent.

Well, be as consistent as English allows. Use the en dash for a sequence, as in 42–81 (this time without the space). Give credit to the source of a quote with the em dash, as in the following (this time with the space).

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

Here, the em dash indicates a quote (in lieu of quotation marks) and also indicates the author to whom the quote is attributed. (If you want to use a horizontal bar instead of the em dash, you know too much for your own good. Or, at least, for my own good.)

We know that the letter ‘n’ is shorter than the letter ‘m,’ so this should help to remind us that the en dash is shorter than the em dash. We still sometimes forget.

The en dash is used with spaces – like so. The em dash is used without spaces—like this.

When reading e-books, we sometimes see the hyphen used in place of the dash. Was it a mistake? Or was the author playing it safe, worried that an e-reader might not recognize the dash? Or did the author see a box in place of the dash when carefully checking the previewer?

En–ie em—ie miney moe,

Pick a dash by its toe!

If it hyphen-ates,

Let it go!

This blog was brought to you by the following punctuation marks:




Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)