How do I punctuate a list of book titles in a sentence?
July 3, 2011 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Punctuation question -- Are the semicolons correct in separating the list of book titles in the following sentence, or should I use commas? "John and Susan offer workshops based on the following books: Making Cheese: A Guide; Cheese is Your Friend: A Method for Success; and Expand Your Horizons: Give Cheese a Chance."
posted by kim in chicago to Writing & Language (23 answers total)
 
I would use commas.
posted by dfriedman at 11:07 AM on July 3, 2011


You need italics, but that looks right to me. But as with these sorts of questions, it depends on what this is for. If I were writing a history monograph, I would consult the Chicago manual and make sure I had it right. Other places use different style guides.
posted by Busoni at 11:08 AM on July 3, 2011


Actually, yeah, commas would be better. Duh. See, it depends. If I'm writing an email to a friend, whatever. But if you really need to know, consult a style manual. As I recall semicolons are for separating commas.
posted by Busoni at 11:10 AM on July 3, 2011


Response by poster: dfriedman: I've written it both ways -- the commas are easier to read but something keeps nagging me to use semicolons. I think it's the colon in each book title that's throwing me off.

Busoni: It's for a marketing brochure on online education workshops. I checked the APA Style Guide and it did say to use semicolons to separate commas.

I think I'll simplify it and use commas. Thank you both for your input!
posted by kim in chicago at 11:14 AM on July 3, 2011


All right, you got me to look up the Chicago manual. Relevant rules:


6.21
Semicolons within series. When elements in a series involve internal punctuation, or when they are very long and complex, they should be separated by semicolons (see 6.60).

6.60
In a series. When items in a series involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons.


As you said, it's the colons in the book that also threw me off. Semicolons are used for secondary subtitles:


17.54
Two subtitles. If, as occasionally happens, there are two subtitles in the original (an awkward contingency), a colon normally precedes the first and a semicolon the second.

[ex.]
A Border Passage: From Cairo to America; A Woman's Journey.

posted by Busoni at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2011


Response by poster: Is the Chicago manual saying I should use semicolons, then?
posted by kim in chicago at 11:20 AM on July 3, 2011


In case that wasn't clear, use commas.

(And I was projecting, because I probably would consult the manual even if I was writing an email, so it was a do as I say not as I do situation.) (Chicago would probably say I need hyphens back there, but whatever.)
posted by Busoni at 11:21 AM on July 3, 2011


Response by poster: Thanks! I think the APA Style Guide is used in educational pieces, but I couldn't find what I was looking for in there. Next time I'll try the Chicago manual.

I appreciate your help.
posted by kim in chicago at 11:26 AM on July 3, 2011


Sorry if that was confusing. The examples they give are:

The membership of the international commission was as follows: France, 4; Germany, 5; Great Britain, 1; Italy, 3; United States, 7.

The defendant, in an attempt to mitigate his sentence, pleaded that he had recently, and quite unexpectedly, lost his job; that his landlady--whom, incidentally, he had once saved from attack--had threatened him with eviction; and that he had not eaten for several days.


You can see the logic behind using the semicolon instead of the comma, because it would look too confusing. But in your case, I think you should use the comma.
posted by Busoni at 11:26 AM on July 3, 2011


Response by poster: Busoni: One more question, if you have time.

In this sentence:

"These evidenced-based, proven-effective suggestions help decrease problems..."

is "proven-effective" grammatically correct as an adjective?

It seems wrong to me, but I can't anything that tells me for sure. I googled it and found a few examples where it was used as an adjective (without the hyphen), but that doesn't mean it's correct.

Any thoughts?
posted by kim in chicago at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2011


There is internal punctuation (the colon). I would use semicolons.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:53 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Proven-effective" seems both ugly and redundant, since the phrase is preceded by "evidence-based." I would go with just "effective."

Or rewrite: "These evidence-based suggestions have proven effective in decreasing problems..."
posted by rtha at 11:59 AM on July 3, 2011


Editor here. I agree that the colons of the subtitles create internal punctuation and therefore require the semicolon. I also agree that doing something to call out the titles would be good. Itals, boldface, whatever you prefer.

Are you stuck with these words? Scientifically-proven might be a good replacement.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:00 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a phrasal adjective, so it takes a hyphen, but it just sounds very awkward. And if something is evidence-based, isn't that basically another word for proven? So it's grammatically correct, but Strunk and White would probably say reword it so it's cleaner.
posted by Busoni at 12:01 PM on July 3, 2011


And OK, if a professional editor is saying use semicolons, I guess I defer to her judgement. I would have thought that since you're setting off the titles with italics, it would be a different case, but guess not.
posted by Busoni at 12:07 PM on July 3, 2011


"John and Susan offer workshops based on the following books: Making Cheese: A Guide; Cheese, Cheese, Cheese: It's Delicious; Cheese is Your Friend: A Method for Success; and Expand Your Horizons: Give Cheese a Chance."

"John and Susan offer workshops based on the following books: Making Cheese: A Guide, Cheese is Your Friend: A Method for Success, and Expand Your Horizons: Give Cheese a Chance."

So I'd use semi-colons as list dividers only if items in the list themselves contain commas. Otherwise, commas delineate lists.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:23 PM on July 3, 2011


Response by poster: Thanks, all. I guess I'll go with semicolons. The book titles will be italicized, btw.

chatongriffes: I'm sort of stuck with these words because technically I'm only proofreading the document, but I can suggest to the writer that she make changes to the content.
posted by kim in chicago at 1:35 PM on July 3, 2011


Semicolons.
If I'm reading right, you have 3 titles, each with a subtitle. There are no secondary subtitles.
Chicago is clear at 6.60 -- In a series. When items in a series involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons. That's the only rule that applies here.
Your punctuation is correct.
posted by LonnieK at 4:10 PM on July 3, 2011


Editor here too, btw.
posted by LonnieK at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2011


re proven-effective -- rtha's got it on the rewrite option. (Dropping "proven" drops something essential to the meeting.)
posted by LonnieK at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2011


BTW, an important point here the value of choosing a style and sticking with it as much as possible. Don't just cherry pick based on what seems right. There's a voice and tone in Chicago that's different from AP, etc, etc.

It's easy to find different answers for many punctuation or style questions. And it's interesting to discuss why one way is better than the other way. For example, U.N. or UN? You can discuss it till the cows come home -- but neither AP nor the NYT is right or wrong; they simply adhere to their chosen styles. So should you.

Most organizations layer their own custom style rules on top of a standard style guide. No harm done, as long as their customization is reasonable and their output is internally consistent.

Resolving these questions are usually pretty easy, in my experience (business communications & publishing). In large part that's because every office I've worked in has defined a style and relied on its consistently.
posted by LonnieK at 4:30 PM on July 3, 2011


Pretty sloppy writing in my comments above . . . meeting for meaning, number agreement, etc. . Hey, that's why we need editors!
posted by LonnieK at 7:09 PM on July 3, 2011


Every time I see one of these questions here, I feel like Mozart in Amadeus, when he's told about the Emperor's rule against ballet in the opera: "But surely, he didn't mean to forbid ballet when it's part of the story?" But yes, internal punctuation includes colons as well as commas.
posted by Busoni at 1:48 AM on July 4, 2011


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