Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, Newhouse School, Syracuse University. Editing for print and digital, new media journalism.

April 20: Want creativity? Here’s how!

By · Sunday, April 20th, 2014 · No Comments »

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 20

Creativity is all about asking questions, especially of yourself. Professional skills include more than knowing how to do something and how to do it well. You want to be focused and productive, yes, but also free to unleash your creativity. These key questions might help.

  1. How have I added value to the work I do and what I produce? You should make a name for yourself as someone who goes a step further than the basics of your job or your role in an organization. Those who do this have a better chance not only of keeping their jobs but also of advancing in them. Challenge yourself to be known as more than “a hard worker.”
  2. What have I learned? We make and mourn mistakes every day. We celebrate successes. Reflect on both and make your own list of lessons learned. When you know what has worked, then focus on repeating those things and building upon them every day.
  3. How have I had fun? Work can be serious and difficult. But that doesn’t mean it should be drudgery. Make time to make it fun. You will be more apt to be creative, too.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

April 19: Want advice? Take some notes!

By · Saturday, April 19th, 2014 · No Comments »

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 19

It is a good feeling when someone asks for advice. If you’re the person seeking advice, know that you are not being a bother. People like to help other people. Still, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure you are not wasting another person’s time and that you are getting the most from that person’s counsel.

  1. Take notes. This part is common sense. Think of it this way: How can you have a 30-minute conversation about a matter that is important to you and not think even one thing is worth noting? It sends a wrong message to the person talking with you. At the least, you should be jotting down key points that will help you make your decision. Those points would be helpful if you use the recommended age-old method of thinking through all your options: take one legal pad, draw a line down the middle and list “pros” on one side and “cons” on the other.
  2. Ask follow questions. Remember that you are having a conversation, so there should be two-way communication. You don’t want to ask your first question and then just listen. The other person is taking signals from you — including body language. Your follow questions will help guide that person in the kinds of examples that are shared, advice that is given and even anecdotes that are told.
  3. Be open-minded. By virtue of asking someone else’s opinion, you are opening yourself to receiving different points of view. So keep an open mind. When you react with negative sentiments, you are being dismissive. Even if you are thinking these thoughts, try not to express them. Instead, hold them close so you can consider them later, after you have had time to think about everything you’ve discussed. Here are some comments to avoid: “But that’s not what I want to do …” “I’m not interested in that … ” “I was always told that’s not a good company … ” or ” I don’t want to live there … “

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

April 18: Compliments? Think first!

By · Friday, April 18th, 2014 · No Comments »

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 18

People appreciate compliments. It’s always nice to hear good things, especially when remarks are personalized. Be careful, though, because good intentions can cause problems in the professional world.

  1. Compliment that offends someone else. This can happen unwittingly when you are focused on one person or entity and don’t take into consideration the bigger picture. A perfect example is the student who stood up in front of a group of professionals and thanked them for the wonderful experience she gained from working with them as an intern. However, she also added: “I didn’t learn anything in the classroom, but I learned a lot in the newsroom.” She momentarily forgot the many professors in the room who helped her get the internship, making for an awkward moment for everyone. 
  2. Just too personal. Unless you know the person really well or you know the person outside of the professional realm, stay away from compliments about someone’s hair, or the perfume / cologne the person is wearing or the person’s wardrobe. Even then, hold off on those remarks if others are present. It could cause embarrassment for the recipient of your kind words. Pay special attention if you are complimenting a woman. Why? Because first you need to ask yourself if you would say the same thing to a man. Many a story has been written about just this kind of thing: how working women react when their gender — not their professionalism — gets the attention.
  3. Backhanded compliment. Keep in mind the definition of “backhanded,” and it will help you avoid complimenting someone in this way: “indirect, awkward, insincere, sarcastic.”

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

April 17: No headline here? Read anyway!

By · Thursday, April 17th, 2014 · No Comments »

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 17

When you send an email without filling in the subject line, you’re basically telling the recipient: “I want you to read something, but I’m not letting you know what it is.” That can be confusing and, perhaps, discourteous. So be thorough. You want to be seen as a clear communicator, always. Here’s what happens when you don’t follow this simple convention.

  1. Missed message. A recipient could miss the email entirely. Depending on how that person’s incoming mail is sorted, the message could be “nonexistent.”
  2. Confusion later. Even if communication takes place, you might reply to one another several times. At some point, one of you is likely to forget the topic or misplace the emails. Or, perhaps you don’t hear from the recipient the first time, so you inquire: “Did you get my email?” But how will you describe it? You don’t have an easy reference because there’s no subject line. Other times, too, people will fill in the subject line when they reply to you. But then you could have two threads going. All of these scenarios could lead to confusion of some kind, and they easily could be avoided.
  3. Tarnished brand. You don’t want anyone to think you’re too busy (unlikely) or too lazy (unfortunate) to take the time to market your message. As a professional communicator, your brand is your reputation. Keep your name out there in every positive way possible, starting with the most simple stuff.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

April 16: Receive a message? Hit reply!

By · Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 · No Comments »

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 16

Instant communication. It’s a wonderful thing. Email. Texting. Social media. We get liked and favorited. We get mail in the inbox. We stay connected all kinds of ways. With professional matters, however, that connection must be two-way communication. It’s not enough to receive. We must acknowledge receipt, and there are mannerly ways to do it.

  1. Reply in a timely fashion. We all do it. We “check in” all day. So while we are checking, why not hit reply and let the sender know the message was received. Doing so now, rather than later, ensures that the message will not be forgotten. It takes only a few seconds. Be the one who gives another person instant gratification that communication actually has happened.
  2. Reply in brief. Really, it doesn’t take much to communicate. “Thanks.” “Message received.” “Will do.” Any of these are appropriate ways to reply in brief. A perfect example from a busy person is his signature reply to any email any time: “Got it. Thanks.”
  3. Beware the “reply all” button. While you are being conscientious about replying, beware the “reply all” button. It can cause instant embarrassment when everyone sees what, perhaps, only one person was supposed to read. You’re at special risk with group messages and group texts, as well as listservs. You can’t take it back, so take the time to be sure you know where your message is going.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

April 15: Asking for help? Get personal!

By · Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 · No Comments »


For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 15

When you seek a reference or an interview, whether you do so by email or written note, keep these ideas in mind to make a solid impression at the outset. They come from a professional journalist working in the field who speaks from experience. As she says, “avoid these rookie etiquette mistakes.”
  1. “Wrong name or publication on an email. Happens all the time, unfortunately.”
  2. “Just flat out asking for help without even a ‘Hello, how are things?’ or ‘I loved your last article on …’ I don’t need my ego stroked, but it’s nice to see someone is putting in an effort if they email asking for a reference or an informational interview.”
  3. “I personally send a thank you email and a note after an interview (in case they are making decisions fast the email helps, but the handwritten is more personal). I always try to make mine personal and reference things we talked about in the meeting so editors know I was paying attention and appreciated their time.” 
It won’t take much of your time to follow these tips, and they surely will make a difference for you in the end.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

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