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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Ask the Book Doctor: About the newest guidelines, "direct" quotes, setting states off by commas, and attributions

Q: I am writing a nonfiction book and should follow Chicago Style, I know, but I just looked up when to use numbers and when to spell out the word, and I discovered numbers one to one hundred should be spelled out. Is this something new? In the past we always spelled out numbers one through ninety-nine.

A: Good catch! Yes, the 15th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style changes the guideline, and now book publishers want numbers one through one hundred spelled out, and numerals used for 101 and above.

Large amounts that are an approximation, such as one million, three hundred, two thousand, etc., are spelled out, but exact numbers, such as 1,300, should be in numbers. Dates are the exception. Here are some examples:

In the 1960s, we learned eleven new dances.

On April 15, John will meet one hundred of his 230 new Italian relatives at his wedding.

More than one thousand people wrote to protest the treatment of the thirty-two prisoners held in Comstat Prison in 1925.

Q: My book contains testimonials. Should I quote people exactly as they spoke or wrote, even if they made errors or got off the subject for a while?

A: No matter how people may write or speak, the author who quotes others has a duty to make others sound good, unless the author intentionally wants to make someone sound uneducated. If someone wrote, "I use to like peanut butter," the author who quotes that piece should repair it to read correctly: "I used to like peanut butter."

Authors should not change the intent of quotations, but authors should correct errors, keep quotations on track, make others sound good, and help readers understand the original intent.

Q: Is the sentence below correctly punctuated? Does the state always have to be set off by commas?

Please be advised that we have certified the judgment, thereby creating a lien against real estate that may be owned by the debtor(s) in Warren County, Ohio, regarding the above-captioned matter.

A: Yes, it is punctuated correctly, and yes, when the city or county and state appear together, the state should be set off by commas.

Q: In the following example, I used Pa as a tag leading to his dialogue. Should I change it to his name (Phil)? I have peppered my manuscript with tags such as this, because I was in his daughter’s POV, and he is her Pa.

"Come here," Pa said. "I want to show you something."

A: Creative writing rarely has absolutes. Ask ten editors and you might get ten opinions. Ask ten writers, and you might get twelve opinions. Writers can try any technique they like.

That said, this editor recommends using names in the attributions, not nicknames like Pa, because tags/attributions are narrative, not internal dialogue, and nicknames should not be used in narrative. If I were your editor, I would change your example to read this way:

"Come here," Phil said. "I want to show you something."

It could also be this way:

"Come here," her father said. "I want to show you something."

—Do you have a question for the book doctor? Get a personal answer today! Send your questions to For more Q & A, go to and click on "Ask the Book Doctor."



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