Tag Archives: copyediting

Beyond Comma Patrol: 10 Ways Editors Can Supercharge Your Communications

Photo by Nicole_N courtesy of SXC.

I’ve known for most of my career as an editor that there was a whole lot more to what I was doing than copyediting. Yes, knowing how to copyedit is one of the basics for my profession – like knowing basic principles of balance and proportion if you are a visual artist, or having basic arithmetical skills if you are an accountant.

Yet being a crackerjack copyeditor doesn’t ensure that a journalist will be a good managing editor or editor-in-chief. Editors bring far more to the table than just checking your copy for stylistic consistency, grammatical correctness or compliance with generally accepted rules of punctuation. Here’s a handy list of 10 ways that an editor can improve your writing, whether you’re writing a 200-word report or a 100,000-word book.

1) Content curation - “Curation” has become a buzzword in the past few years, but editors have been evaluating, selecting and arranging content to appeal to their audiences for a long time. As the Internet spews skyrocketing amounts of information at us, an editor’s ability to filter and screen content and present the best/most appropriate materials will become increasingly valuable.

2) Content aggregation - Curation of content focuses on the selection of individual items; aggregation of content focuses on grouping materials together in meaningful ways. Before there were RSS feeds, there were wire editors, piecing together national or international news sections by aggregating content in a way that allowed readers to keep up on developments and remain well-informed citizens. I call my personal approach to aggregation “getting the mix right.” Whether it’s a collection of sports briefs or an entire podcast or magazine issue, my editorial focus is on grouping content in a way that forms a coherent whole.

3) Story organization - Some stories have an obvious structure – chronological, say, or a bulleted list (“5 Ways to Fresher Breath”). For those that don’t, an editor can help you dump out your reporting notebook and research files and build a structure that will help the reader pay attention to the story, not the way it is being told.

4) Story-crafting - When I discovered the story coaching method of editing, I had a major epiphany about what value editors brought to the writing process itself. Practitioners of story coaching, such as Don Murray, Jack Hart, Jacqui Banaszynski and Roy Peter Clark, actively collaborate with the writer, both before and after the story has been filed, to shape the story for maximum impact and readability. This skill, along with #3, are two prerequisites that will ensure content that is worthy of having “comma patrol” performed to provide a final polish.

5) Project management - No small amount of a managing editor’s job is being a traffic manager for a communications deliverable. He or she must ride herd over a small stable of writers, shape and polish the story, AND hand it off to design on time, all while remembering how the content in this issue fits with that of 3 issues down the road, and checking to make sure page folios are right and ads do not contain coupons or other offers that are expired. It’s possible to be an editor and be disorganized, but I am not sure it’s possible to be a good editor without a sense of how to move content through the system quickly and efficiently.

6) UX/usability expert – Not just for web geeks, the concept of UX or the user experience is something editors concern themselves with constantly. We are the reader’s primary advocate. If we can’t make sense of a passage or an idea, how will they?

7) Moderator/listener  - I am not convinced that journalists can be objective, but editors are charged with listening to all sides with an open mind. This assignment makes them good at orchestrating interactions between those who hold divergent perspectives, and also tends to make them good at listening for subtle things, such as that which is NOT being voiced during any given debate.

8) Creative consultant/innovator - Editors spend much of their day working within well-defined parameters, such as budget and the format of their publication. They are constantly challenged to make something novel and engaging out within a defined template. This require an ability to innovate and find a way to pour new wine into old wine skins and make it all hold together.

9) Historian - A good editor makes assignments and revises copy with a keen appreciation for the background of whatever topic he or she is working with. Most issues do not spring into existence with no frame of reference. Editors must understand that frame, and make it visible to the audience.

10) Contextualizer - closely related to #9, this role has the editor make visible all the elements, current and historical, that shape a given story. Readers who understand the full context of an issue will be far less easily swayed by sound bites and polemics.

Another view of what editors do: Who am I this time? Roles editors play

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Write this Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for February 24, 2012

Photo courtesy of SXC. 

Improving your writing by resting | Jeff Goins
Carol Tice, guest posting on Jeff Goins’ blog, presents a convincing case for taking one day off (and she means *completely* off) from writing and engaging via electronic devices each week.

Five Ways That Consistency Matters | Intelligent Editing
Geoff Hart explains why stylistic consistency matters, especially in the case of numbers (two vs. 2), capitalization, and word choice. I love his explanation about capitalization, since my pet peeve as an editor is inappropriate capitalization …

“In Western languages, capitalization indicates the start of a sentence or the presence of a proper noun. Changing from a capitalized form to a lowercase form triggers the reflex to ask whether the author has switched from discussing a named entity to a generic category. Each such hesitation slows reading, impedes comprehension, and increases the risk of an interpretation error.”

This post might come across to some as a little overly technical, but it’s good stuff for writers and the copy editors who serve them.

10 Must-Haves For Your Mobile Reporting Kit
Elana Zak, posting on the 10,000 Words blog, provides a nice summary of the tools that a 21st Century reporter needs to do his or her job. Some are obvious (mobile phone, business cards, a case to carry your gear) but some are not obvious to those who haven’t been out in the field since the rise of the smartphone (extra memory cards, a USB microphone). And her suggestion to bring a mini first-aid kit is just good common sense!

26 Tips for Writing Great Blog Posts | Social Media Examiner
Social media consultant Debbie Hemley takes readers from A to Z with good advice about writing blog posts that get read and shared. I’ve been blogging since 2007 and I learned a ton! Some of my favorite sections are Categories, Descriptions, Original vs. Curated Content, and Valuable Content.

Want to Make Money Online? Here’s What Sells | Online Journalism Review
Online journalism expert Robert Niles discusses five alternatives to paywalls for web content that can generate revenue for journalists. They include advertising, e-books, videos, merchandise and events.

“Write What You Know” Does Not Mean What You Think It Does | Fuel Your Writing
Icy Sedgwick discusses the old saw to write (fiction, especially) from your own experience, and helps readers go beyond the literal implications. Here’s a sample of her advice:

“Don’t take (the directive to write what you know) so literally – I’m pretty sure Tolkien didn’t have to go to Middle Earth, and JK Rowling never went to Hogwarts! The fundamental fact is that what you know is humanity, and how the world works, and human nature is fundamentally the same. While we all have different drives, desire, fears and goals, we have the same basic needs. The setting is just window dressing … characters need to be believable, even if they aren’t based in our reality.”

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for September 6, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

Memoir’s truthy obligations: a handy how-to guide | Nieman Storyboard

English Professor Ben Yagoda and Dan DeLorenzo, a journalist, address the sticky question of accuracy in memoir writing and offer a rating system for “truthiness” and charts evaluating the honesty and readability of a number of modern and classic memoirs – everyone from St. Augustine to the reviled James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces.”

Quote and Comment | Realities and appearances, arguments and facts: Scheme for better political news.

Jay Rosen of NYU provides a handy way for reporters to sort out political news and commentary. Starting with honest-to-goodness facts and ending with phony arguments, the chart cuts through invective and is a superb head-clearer for anyone involved in covering politics.

Brainstorming strategies to combat writer’s block | PR Daily

A guest post from Mark Nichol of DailyWritingTips blog, which provides several great time-tested ways to get started or moving on writing assignments, including cubing, freewriting, listing and mapping.

Podcast Interview — Latest changes to the Associated Press Stylebook | Copyediting Blog

Grant Barrett, contributing editor for Copyediting blog (and newsletter) had a conversation with Associated Press contributing editor Darrell Christian about all the changes to the 2011 AP Stylebook. Here’s your chance to catch up on the finer points of style without getting your hands dirty!

Secrets to a Successful Fake Twitter Character | Fast Company

Adam Penenberg interviews the anonymous satirists behind @TheBillWalton, @FakeAPStylebook, and @NotBurtReynolds to find out how they have managed to garner a quarter-million followers between the three accounts.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for June 5, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

Everything You’ve Been Force-fed About Blogging Is Wrong

Karol Gajda, travel/lifestyle blogger at Ridiculously Extraordinary, discusses a recent discussion he had with other bloggers about what formulas for success really work, and he comes up with the conclusion that few pre-packaged directions work for everyone, but experimentation among success models can help identify what really resonates with the key audience for a blog.

13 Alternative Ways to Consume Your News

Jennifer Van Grove, writing on Mashable.com, has compiled an interesting roundup of apps and sites designed to facilitate news consumption. Includes everything from StumbleUpon and beyond-the-bookmark sites Instapaper and Read It Later to social news apps News.me, Zite, and Smartr. Anyone writing nonfiction for traditional print media will want to review this list for ideas on how to shape stories for an increasingly online/mobile audience.

Everyone Has a Story « The Artist’s Road

Patrick Ross, writing in the first few days after the U.S. military raid in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden, crafts a beautiful post that emphasizes that the man who pulled the trigger to kill Bin Laden, like the Navy SEAL team of which he is a member, has a story, one which he is eager to hear. The post and the comments that follow are a valentine to the power of story to humanize events with heavy historical importance.

How To Get The Most Out Of Your iPhone As A Reporting Tool | 10,000 Words

Lauren Rabaino provides several great tips for using your iPhone as a serious reporting tool. Most of them apply equally well to almost any smartphone. Some of my favorites: organize your apps, buy an audio adapter, use solid objects as a stabilizer for video.

Reading for Detail: Proofing Tips from our Editors | Beyond PR

The PR Newswire Editorial team frequently catches obvious mistakes in press releases submitted for distribution over the wire  – missing quotation marks, the website that doesn’t end in .com (or .org, etc.).   They also read every release carefully, double checking minute details. In March 2011 alone they found more than 12,000 mistakes. Here are some examples of mistakes that can reflect poorly on an organization – and some tips for fixing them before you hit “send.”

Susan Orlean Explains How Twitter Affects Her Long-Form Writing | PBS Media Shift

An interesting short post by Simon Owens relating how Orlean, who’s written many popular fiction and nonfiction books, has used Twitter to receive feedback, promote her work, connect with writers and editors and stay in touch between projects.

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How to Make the Editor Your Friend (III): Be Willing to Revise

Another area in which little things mean a lot in the writer-editor relationship concern story revisions, and the writer’s ability and willingness to revise a story once it’s been submitted to the editor.

When I say revision, I’m not talking comma patrol. As an editor, I expect to have to do a copyediting sweep to get the article to conform to Associated Press or house style expectations. However, if the writer is able to turn in copy free of typographical or common AP style errors, that shows me that he or she is aware of style issues and is trying to make my job easier, which is a plus.

But even when there’s been a good flow of information on the story’s progress back and forth between writer and editor (which often happens when the editor uses story coaching techniques), parts of an assignment may not hit the mark. The writer might explore a tangent that doesn’t bring out the general theme of the piece, he/she might raise questions with a source that they don’t answer later in the article (but sound deliciously relevant to the editor!), or it may be that one section is too long, while another, more important area has been overlooked in the quest to meet the word count for the assignment.

I often tell new writers to plan for one round of revisions in the article writing cycle. Eight or nine times out of ten, I don’t need a rewrite from them, but it avoids the ugly situation in which a writer might insist I should publish an article “as is” because they don’t have any more time to work on it (this has actually happened to me once or twice; those folks don’t write for me anymore).

My favorite way to communicate rewrites to writers is through a story edit memo, which provides my take on the story (what I got from the piece as a reader), identifies what I see as the story’s primary strengths (e.g., good use of description or quotes, excellent transitions) and summarizes what I see as the article’s main problems. I like to provide as specific feedback as I can, rather than expect the write to know what I mean by “tighten it up a bit” or “tell us more about the subject’s childhood.”

A couple of hints for making the revision phase go more smoothly:

  • Clarify with your editor during the assigning phase how many rounds of edits are typical for the publication, if you haven’t worked for them before.
  • Let your editor know early on if you’re having trouble structuring the piece in such a way that you can meet your word count without going over. (Or if, heaven forbid, you don’t have enough to fill out the length requirement.) He or she may have suggestions for what to expand or trim.
  • If your editor doesn’t provide detailed feedback on a revision, by all means ask for specifics! If the editor says “write less about the businesses involved in this project,” ask how much less (number of words) and if there’s any part of that section he/she wants preserved.
  • Don’t forget to ask what’s working about your initial draft. Getting the editor’s take on what he or she likes can make the decision-making while you are cutting or rewriting material easier.

Helpful links related to article revisions

How To Edit, Revise & Rewrite Your Articles, Essays Or Book Chapters

Tips On Revising Your Writing: How To Edit Your Article Or Manuscript Professionally

Rewrites and Revisions: They’re Nothing Personal

The Rewrite Request

Working with Your Editor: Three Tips on Getting the Most out of the Editorial Process
This post is aimed at book writers, but some of the advice about responding to revision requests still holds.

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