Start with the basics when editing
In my editing class this week, we went over some common errors that should become second nature for editors to recognize and fix. The exercise was a test, of sorts, to see how much the students remembered from previous stories they edited. Among the errors:
- Arrested for. It’s a phrase that convicts the person. Instead: arrested in connection with …
- Damages. This means monetary compensation, not physical damage. Instead: Damage from the storm was extensive.
- E. Genesee St. Spell out compass directions and “street” when there is no number. Instead: East Genesee Street
- Lead. This is not the spelling for the intended “led.” Instead: Police led the suspect to the car.
- Unnamed: Everyone has a name. Instead: unidentified
There are plenty more, which are contained in Part II of Think Like an Editor. Part II, called “Work Like an Editor,” is a handy go-to source. It is intended not only for copy editors, but for all editors and for reporters as well. Writers who know these nuances and who use them properly will set themselves apart.
The AP Stylebook is another go-to source. We encourage journalists to read the book, front to back. Yes, we sometimes hear that is like reading a dictionary, but it works. Students who read and study the entries before an open-book quiz are much more likely to do well. That’s because they recognize that a style exists, and they know where in the book to find it. Students unfamiliar with the AP Stylebook will take longer to find an entry, if they even recognize an error. These quizzes are timed, putting students on deadline. It’s a good way to mimic the editing process.
It is easy to forget how daunting it can be to edit a story having no knowledge of what errors might be in it. That’s why approaching a story methodically — fixing all of the grammar, spelling, style and punctuation first, as well as common errors — is so important. The list of everything else to find and fix is time-consuming enough.
Start with the basics. End with a well-edited story.