Errors to Avoid

The following problems and “errors” are seen all too often. Please do your part to make the Editor’s job easier by eliminating them prior to submitting your article. Thanks.


Sweeping, unfounded, unsupported generalizations, predictions, etc., are anathema. Nothing is more likely to cause your article to be rejected. If you feel that you must make sweeping generalizations, etc., then you will need to support them with evidence and/or argument.

Fancy typographical elements:

Fancy typographical elements, including so-called smart quotes (curly quotes), superscript, subscript, typographical ellipses and em dashes are to be avoided. Use only plain text quotes, dashes, etc.

To turn off “smart quotes” in Microsoft Word, go in the menu to:

  • Tools
  • AutoCorrect
  • AutoFormat
  • uncheck “Replace ‘Straight quotes’ with ‘smart quotes'”
  • click on “OK”

Note: Different versions of Word label the submenu items under the Tools menu somewhat differently. What you are looking for is any “autocorrect” or “autoformat” feature where you can uncheck “Replace ‘Straight quotes’ with ‘smart quotes.'” There will be two such places under the Tools menu where you need to make this change.

Use two straight dashes ( — ) instead of typographical em dashes.

Use three dots ( … ) with a space either side instead of typographical ellipses.


In the American system of punctuation (to which the Secular Web adheres), commas and periods always go inside closing quotation marks. (“This is incorrect”. “This is correct.”)

In the American system of punctuation, question marks go inside closing quotation marks if the question is part of the original quotation, outside the closing quotation marks if the original quotation has been made into a question by the current author.

Spacing around em dashes:

This is–believe it or not–correct.
This is — believe it or not — incorrect.

Spacing at the ends of sentences:

Double spacing at the ends of sentences went out of fashion with the demise of the typewriter. Please use single spacing at the ends of sentences.

Note: Punctuation will be edited, if necessary, to conform to the American system of punctuation.


Use a spell checker (but realize that spell checkers will not catch incorrectly hyphenated words, and often do not recognize compound words that are correctly unhyphenated).

Avoid unnecessary and incorrect hyphenation. With very few exceptions, explained later, compound words beginning with the following prefixes form closed compounds, that is, they are NOT hyphenated:

  • anti
  • bi
  • bio
  • co
  • counter
  • de
  • extra
  • inter
  • intra
  • macro
  • meta
  • micro
  • mid
  • mini
  • multi
  • non
  • over
  • post
  • pre
  • pseudo
  • re
  • semi
  • socio
  • super
  • ultra
  • un
  • under

Thus, it is “nonreligious,” not “non-religious”; “coauthor,” not “co-author”; etc.

Exceptions occur when the main word begins with a capital, e.g., “non-Christian”; when a vowel would otherwise be doubled, e.g., “anti-intellectual”; or when the combination would otherwise be confusing, e.g., “anti-utopian.” (Note: there are some exceptions to the rule regarding doubling of the vowel connecting a prefix with the main word; “preexist” is an example. Use a dictionary, but do not rely too much on dictionary suggestions calling for hyphenation.)

Compound words beginning with the prefix “self” are almost always hyphenated, however. Thus, it is “self-esteem,” “self-reliance,” etc. One notable exception: “self pity.”

Note: At the discretion of the Editor, British spelling may be “Americanized.”

Note: All submissions will be edited for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and readability. We use The Chicago Manual of Style as our authority in such matters.