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Editing 101

The reading and editing of copy consists of any or
all of the following five tasks:

(1) Correcting all errors in word usage or in facts.

(2) Ensuring the story conforms to the “style” used by
the publication or publisher.

(3) Improving the story when needed.

(4) Catching and eliminating libelous matter.

(5) Writing or improving headlines and subheads, where
called for.

Good copy editors must be able to quickly catch and
correct errors of all kinds. Clean copy should be free
of spelling, grammar, and high-sounding language
errors. Though important, the correction of such
errors, however, is not the most important part of the
editors work. Editors must be able to spot and correct
errors of fact. Editors must be familiar with proper
names appearing in the news, such as names of
prominent persona and places the world over, the titles
of well-known books, plays, pictures, and musical
compositions, the names of railroads and important
corporations, and special trade-mark names.

Editors must accurately judge value of the written work.
If the real point of the story has been buried by the writer,
editors must give it the prominence that it deserves. The
ineffective lead must be rewritten, removing needless
details, and often rearranging parts of the story so that it
flows better making it easier for the reader to follow.

To improve the style, editors must carefully consider
paragraphs and sentence construction, and choice of
words and figures. Each paragraph should be given an
effective eye-catching lead. Sentences must tie in well
with paragraphs. Editors must transform into firm,
coherent statements. In short, the editor’s task is
constructive weak, rambling sentences as well as critical;
it is as important for him to rewrite and rearrange as to
cut out and boil down.

Some Common Errors

In reading copy rapidly editors should be on the lookout
for certain kinds of common errors in spelling, grammar,
and punctuation. The editor’s quick eye will catch the
frequently misspelled words without difficulty, but
uncommon proper names are more likely to cause trouble,
and in cases of doubt, books of reference should be
consulted. To prevent errors in grammar from slipping into
a story, the editor should note:
(1) the agreement of the verb with the subject, especially
when separated by words or phrases;
(2) the relation of pronouns to their preceding nouns;
(3) the position of participles in relation to the words they
modify;
(4) the use of coordinate conjunctions to connect elements
of the same kind;
(5) the position of correlative conjunctions with relation to
the elements that they connect.

Common errors in punctuation are:
(1) using a comma instead of a semicolon to separate
independent, grammatically unconnected statements;
(2) omitting apostrophes in the possessive case and in
contractions;
(3) omitting a period after abbreviations;
(4) using double instead of single quotation marks;
(5) failing to put quotation marks at the beginning of
each paragraph of a continuous quotation and at the
end of only the last paragraph.

Here are some suggestions for making it easier for all
who are involved in the process.

(1) Read every word of copy carefully.
(2) Make all corrections you can spot before
submitting your writing to an editor.
(3) Cut out all needless words and phrases. I
guarantee you that as much as you
clean out, the editor will find even more.
(4) Don’t think that your own way of expressing an
idea is the only good way. There’s always more than
one way and some are better than others. Consider
suggestions carefully as you make your decision.
(5) Make sure that all quoted matter is properly
enclosed in “quotes” and that each new speaker
begins a new line.
(6) Make sure you use single ” quotes” on
quotations within quotations.
(7) Verify names, initials, addresses, dates, and
facts generally. You know what you
want to say so help the editor out by doing some
fact checking prior to submission.
(8) Put a magnifying glass to your work as you look
for libelous matter, especially in
nonfiction writing.

Now you’ve heard enough. Get back to your writing but
don’t forget to come back. Next time I’ll be writing about
headlines.

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