Working overtime on errors


How many little errors can you squeeze into a 200-word document? If you’re one of the public relations pros who wrote any of the doctor profiles I edited recently, the answer is a lot. In fact, you were probably working overtime to supply me with great examples of errors involving the finer points of punctuation, capitalization, spacing and good old-fashioned spell checking.

These mistakes don’t reflect badly on the people who made them. They’re dinky things that only a perfectionist or professional editor would notice. But they’re excellent cautionary examples for anyone who wants their prose to be letter-perfect.

“Dr. John Doe, M.D. is a board certified cardiologist.” First off: Good for him. That impressive accomplishment makes my nitpicking seem petty indeed. That said, I have a nit to pick. There should be a comma after M.D. An academic credential like this is parenthetical to the name, like Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius. Parenthetical elements in the middle of a sentence need one comma before and one after – yes, even if that credential ends with a period. You may also be wondering: 1. Can you write MD without periods, and 2. Shouldn’t there be a hyphen in “board certified”? The answers: yes and probably. Periods in academic credentials are optional. Just be consistent. And compound modifiers like “board certified” that come before a noun should be hyphenated anytime doing so helps the reader. In this case, I added one.

Doe (not his real name) is proud to have been selected by a certain magazine as one of “America’s Top Cardiologists”. Note the period. It’s wrong. In American English, a period always comes before a closing quotation mark, regardless of whether it’s part of the quote.

Doe is also proud to have been published extensively in “many prestigious Cardiology journals.” It’s fascinating how often people assume specialties, job descriptions and the like should begin with capital letters. “Stu is a Cashier who uses Mathematics in his daily work.” Nope and nope. Your guidepost: If a job description, specialty or academic discipline can be lowercased, it should be: He’s a cashier who studied math, biology and French.

Here’s another common theme I saw in the doctor profiles: People still think you’re supposed to double space between sentences. Don’t. Just don’t. Single spacing is the standard among pretty much every professional publishing outlet in the English-speaking world.

One of the physicians has extensive expertise in “Descemets stripping endothelial keratoplasty.” There’s just one problem: There is no Descemets stripping endothelial keratoplasty. It’s Descemet’s, singular possessive, which a simple Google search proved.

Another of these doctors, according to her own spin doctors, “believes in giving back to the community, and has performed cataract surgeries.”

If the stuff after the “and” is a whole clause, complete with subject and verb, use a comma. If not, not. So either “she believes in giving back to the community and has performed cataract surgeries” or “she believes in giving back to the community, and she has performed cataract surgeries.” Inserting that subject “she” makes all the difference.

One of these doctors specializes “hi-res imaging,” which, while very friendly, would be better as “high-res.” That’s not any kind of rule, mind you, just professional advice from someone who pays attention and has never seen “high” abbreviated as “hi” in any reputable publication – at least not since the days when people bragged about their Hi-Fi stereos.

Finally, there’s a doctor who has “lots of experience with MRI’s.” I understand why a PR writer would put an apostrophe here. And it’s not really an error to do so. But editors use apostrophes to form plurals only when the absence of an apostrophe would cause confusion. So MRIs is fine. But if you were writing a headline in all capital letters, an apostrophe would be appropriate because it would show that the S in MRI’S is there to make it plural and not to stand in for a word.

– June Casagrande is the author of “The Best Punctuation Book, Period.” She can be reached at