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NASA SP-7084


Grammar, Punctuation, and Capitalization

A Handbook for Technical Writers and Editors


Mary K. McCaskill
Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia


The four chapters making up this reference publication were originally written as part of an ongoing effort to write a style manual for the Technical Editing Branch of the NASA Langley Research Center. These chapters were written for technical publishing professionals (primarily technical editors) at Langley. At the urging of my branch head, I am making this part of the style manual available to the technical publishing community.

This publication is directed toward professional writers, editors, and proofreaders. Those whose profession lies in other areas (for example, research or management), but who have occasion to write or review others' writing will also find this information useful. By carefully studying the examples and revisions to these examples, you can discern most of the techniques in my editing "bag of tricks"; I hope that you editors will find these of particular interest.

Being a technical editor, I drew nearly all the examples from the documents written by Langley's research staff. I admit that these examples are highly technical and therefore harder to understand, but technical editors and other technical publishing professionals must understand grammar, punctuation, and capitalization in the context in which they work.

In writing these chapters, I came to a realization that has slowly been dawning on me during my 15 years as a technical editor: authorities differ on many rules of grammar, punctuation, and capitalization; these rules are constantly changing (as is our whole language); and these rules (when they can be definitely ascertained) sometimes should be broken! Thus much of writing and editing is a matter of style, or preference. Some of the information in this publication, particularly the chapter on capitalization, is a matter of style. Langley's editorial preferences are being presented when you see the words we prefer, "we" being Langley's editorial staff. I do not intend to imply that Langley's style is preferred over any other; however, if you do not have a preferred style, Langley's editorial tradition is a long and respected one.

I wish to acknowledge that editorial tradition and the people who established it and trained me in it. I am also grateful to Alberta L. Cox, NASA Ames Research Center, and to Mary Fran Buehler, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for reviewing this document.

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