Who cares about hyphens, commas and capital letters? You should.

You’re a busy editor, fighting a deadline. Two submissions arrive in your email. One is brilliant but full of grammatical errors and style inconsistencies. You’d have to spend an hour fixing it up. Another submission is just okay, but it’s ready to go. Which would you publish?

I often encounter students who’ve been told all their lives they are good writers, but who struggle with the details of MLA Style or AP Style. If you’re e. e. cummings you can do whatever you want, but if you’re writing a close reading of a sonnet, or a preview of a football game or a non-profit grant application, then identifying and mastering the conventions of the genre is part of the process of writing in that genre.

Students may feel they are too busy to master all the genre conventions I throw at them. Of course, I give them lots of practice and I give a full review of their rough drafts and the chance to revise. And in my journalism class, I confess that when I take a closed-book AP Style quiz, I tend to score in the high 80s. (I haven’t memorized every detail, so I have to rely on my AP Stylebook.)

But an editor’s job is different from a professor’s job. My job requires me to read and respond to every student’s work, no matter what shape it’s in when I read it; an editor, on the other hand, has the option to reject submissions that would take too much time to fix.

I’ve recently had “the passive verb talk” with my journalism students. I’m gearing up next week for “the hyphen talk.”

“Chicago” and AP supporters get along no better than any other rivals in these divided times; they don’t even agree on whether the feuding parties are copyeditors (“Chicago”) or copy editors (AP), to say nothing of the serial comma, which is something of a holy war (“Chicago” says yes; AP says no).

Copy editors, as the final bulwark between errant writing and defenseless readers, do God’s work here on earth. For instance, “Chicago” Section 8.91 tells us that God takes the capital G; per 8.140, earth takes lowercase “e” (though if you’re naming planets’ proper names, it’s Earth and Mars; sun and moon take lowercase). As I said, God’s work here on earth. Section 8.109 is entitled “Heaven, hell, and so on,” which tells you all you need to know. —The Washington Post