Notes on Editing By David McHam 2009 by David McHam



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Notes on Editing


By David McHam


©2009 by David McHam




Table of Contents


Chapter One – An Introduction


Chapter Two – Style
Chapter Three – Spelling
Chapter Four – Proper Nouns
Chapter Five – Vocabulary
Chapter Six – Structure
Chapter Seven – Attribution
Chapter Eight – Grammar
Chapter Nine – Usage
Chapter Ten – Punctuation
Chapter Eleven – Specialized Language
Chapter Twelve – Brand Names, Copyright and Libel

Chapter One

An Introduction


The act of communicating in print involves gathering, sorting and distributing information. Printed information must be assumed to be correct. Mistakes of any kind cause the information to become suspect.
The writer of the material to be printed should be able to present the information in such a way that concerns over its form and accuracy do not arise. If this happens, the material won't need much attention and will float through the copy-to-print process. This is possible in part because of the training and knowledge of the writer. Among other considerations, the writer will be sufficiently grounded in the basics of the language to present his or her thoughts clearly and accurately. Of course, the subject matter must also be accurate and clear.
Editors are inserted in the process to provide critical judgment. Editors who have a grasp of the intricacies of language may be able to catch errors or mistakes. If no errors are found, the editor can provide a stamp of approval on what the writer has done.

Editors can improve copy only to the extent to which they are qualified. Changing copy for the sake of change is not good editing. Editors must have a reason for making changes. Changes should improve the copy. One way to say this is: “Editing is the art of improving copy without messing it up.”

Writing and editing are closely related. Writers and editors have the same goal: that of communicating. Both writing and editing involve making constant decisions about language. A justification must be found for every word, for every way of handling information.
The better grounded writers are in the basics of the language, the better able they are to present clear, accurate copy. The same applies to editors. Qualified editors can help writers achieve the goal of effective communication.
How are these qualities acquired? Editors may be taught, they may learn through observation or reading, or they may pick up ideas so naturally that they don't remember the origin of those ideas.
In the beginning, would-be editors can develop bad habits as easily as they develop good habits. Having their work challenged by teachers or trained editors is helpful in teaching young editors how to edit well.
Good editors must have self-confidence. They build self-confidence by having their work critiqued by people who are better at editing than they are. In this way, they learn about standards of excellence. They learn what actions need to be made and how to justify those actions. Justification involves editing for a reason, not as a result of whim. Good editors deal in knowledge and logic.

The Editing Process

Raw copy can seem forbidding. Editors must have a system for reading the copy. Such a system allows editors to break the editing process down into smaller, manageable areas. When editors look at a mark of punctuation, a word or a construction they can check what the copy says against what the editors know to be the acceptable way of handling that particular information.

This process requires mental discipline. For as long as necessary, the editor must concentrate on the material at hand. Every editor develops his or her best approach to this process. Here's a suggested way of going about it:

1. As you read each sentence, pay attention to areas that you know should be checked. Ask yourself as you go, is this comma in the right place, is that the correct way to spell that word, does this sentence conform to acceptable patterns of structure? If changes need to be made, make them at that point. Don't tarry. If you need to check something further, make some kind of small mark to help you remember that additional checking is necessary.
2. Go back to the places you have marked and do whatever you have to do to straighten them out. If you need to look up the word in a dictionary, do that now. If you need to check something in the stylebook, do that now. If you weren't sure about a fact, check it now if possible. Remove your marks as you go.
3. Read over the copy again. This second reading should be more thorough. Look at it with a sense of detachment. When you have finished reading and when all the areas you needed to check have been checked, go on to something else. You can proceed to other tasks with assurance that what you have edited so far has been edited to the best of your ability.
You are probably editing on a video display terminal. But in the event you are editing on the copy itself, a suggestion: Make your improvements as clearly and neatly as possible. The purpose of editing is to prepare the copy for the typesetter. The editor is the last stop. When the copy leaves the editor, all questions should have been answered.
Implicit in this approach is the understanding that you won't change anything unless you have a reason to make that change. You will need to have a mental checklist of areas with which you should be concerned. You are constantly comparing what you read to that mental check list.

Here are some of the specific items you will want to have in your catalog of areas to evaluate: style, spelling, vocabulary, word usage, grammar and structure, punctuation, facts. Your catalog won't have a set number of areas of concern. With experience you won't even be conscious of working from such a list. You will begin to notice that when you have seen this particular situation before it has sometimes been incorrect.

Work on speeding up the editing process. Push yourself. Don't go too slowly. Slowness works against concentration.
When in doubt, consult a supervisor. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to talk with the writer. This would be appropriate when fact situations are in doubt.

Editing With Good Sense

Anyone who is going to be an editor can prepare for the inevitable: whoever handles copy makes mistakes. In learning to edit, students should train themselves to make as few mistakes as possible. One way of doing this is to learn to scrutinize every mark of punctuation, every word, every aspect of the composition. Finding mistakes and correcting them is what is expected of the editor.


Editors need not brag about their success in editing. Neither do they need to berate the people who make the mistakes as in: “Hey, stupid, you goofed.” If editors need to say anything, they might make a gentle statement that a proper name is spelled incorrectly, or a word isn't used the way it should be or that our style is to use a comma there.
Careless or capricious editing can be as bad as no editing at all. Bad editors will overlook areas that need work while playing with areas that either had nothing wrong with them or were a matter of preference. In matters of preference, the writers' preferences must prevail.
To repeat: the editor should not impose her or his preferences on the writer. Otherwise the relationship between writer and editor erodes. Erosion begins when editors are unable to justify the changes.
Caution and restraint are the best approaches to editing. This applies especially when writers have a pronounced style. A change can often affect the cadence of a sentence. Editors must maintain the style in which the writing was written. They look for the tone of the material and edit with such sensitivity that a writer's individual approach isn't lost.

Editors can affect copy in one of four ways: They can make it better, make it worse, make changes that don't make the copy better or worse, or make no changes at all. The goal should be to maintain the quality that is in the writing and to fix only what needs to be fixed. Good editors make copy better, and they make changes with that in mind.

Editing involves the repetitious application of critical judgment on all matters, large and small. Good editors pit their knowledge and ability against the copy. The better prepared the editors are, the less likely they are to fail. Succeeding gives editors satisfaction. The only reward for good editing comes when editors know they have done a good job.
Writing is a creative process, editing a critical one. Good editors understand that acceptable writing may occur in any one of several ways. Young editors must overcome the temptation to edit the way they would have written. While the editors' prerogative may be to change, that prerogative does not extend to re-creation. Editors must have a reason for their every action.
By establishing a checklist, editors will look for specifics. If a change is made, the reason for that change will have been determined in advance. In this way editors are able to separate what ought to be changed from those areas that editors shouldn't worry about. When editors have more experience, the obvious mistakes will jump out. The more subtle mistakes may still slip through. The nature of subtle mistakes is such that they slip by everyone, including experienced editors. That danger is always present.
Editors should have a standard from which they work and they should be clear as to how they created that standard. This standard should include the basics, such as style, spelling, etc. Editors should be cautious when dealing with colloquialisms or regionalisms. Language shouldn't be forced into a straitjacket.
Editors can and should be pedantic about appositives, about the

apostrophe (its/it's), about hyphens in modification. But editors shouldn't be dogmatic about the way writers write that is different from the way they, the editors, would write.

Editors-in-training must have the right attitude toward learning to be good editors. What seems trivial to one person may be important to another. No one can persuade another to adopt such an attitude. Editing is essentially a discipline. Extreme concentration is required.

Professionalism is

more than education,

more than experience,

more than training.


Professionalism is

a state of mind.


--- Lilla Ross, Florida Times-Union

A Broader Scope

Working as an editor may involve more than editing copy. Here we’re discussing all kinds of editing. Editors oversee the process of getting material from copy to print. This could include taking care of typesetting and choosing a printer. Photographs and illustrations have to be assembled. Layouts must be devised. Headlines have to be written. The project has to be supervised along the way.


In theory, whatever is to be printed must be edited: advertisements, company publications, brochures, news releases, wire service copy, magazines, books, newsletters, newspapers, annual reports. Even radio and television news copy must be edited. Opportunities in editing range so broadly that any list would be limiting. Editing is as necessary in advertising and public relations as it is in news/editorial work.
No typical organizational chart exists. In many situations, one or two people may write, edit, write headlines, take care of design, oversee typesetting and printing, handle distribution. The exception, though, is the rule. In many situations, the copy process is a group effort. The pattern is that every organization that handles copy does it the way it thinks best.

Editors work for other people we will call supervisors. These supervisors have a great deal of experience or limited experience. The supervisors may handle people well or ineffectively. Sometimes they are great teachers. Sometimes they think they know more than they do. If they haven't had the benefit of good teaching or haven't worked for good editors, they may not have high standards. Or their standards may simply be different. Sometimes good young editors can find the situation awkward when they have to work for someone who isn't as prepared as they are.

People with talent must hope that they will be recognized by people who have talent themselves. When this match occurs, working can be fun and rewarding. Young people have to prepare themselves for such opportunities. Young editors who are ill-prepared will have a difficult time working with supervisors who have a good grasp of the editing process.
Changes in typesetting and printing have not affected the basics of editing. Whatever the impact of technology, the importance of editing has not lessened. Training and skill are still involved. This skill may be performed at a word-processing terminal or on paper. Copy still must be processed, and the person responsible for processing is an editor. Technology has not eliminated the need for editing. Because of technology, the future may hold expanded opportunities for editors in the processing of information.
Proofreading
Proofreading changes should be limited to glaring errors. The time to make structural changes in the copy is before the copy is set in type. Making changes in the type can be time-consuming, costly and may result in additional mistakes.
Proofreading is an entirely different and separate process from editing. Corrections are made in the body of the copy during editing. Proofreading corrections are made in the margins. Some of the editing and proofreading symbols are similar, but many are different.
Among the mistakes that must be caught during proofreading are misspelled words, wrong division of words, transposed letters/words/lines, faulty alignment, typographical errors in punctuation, wrong fonts, uneven spacing between words and lines, and missing or incorrect slugs or guidelines. Obviously, incorrect information must be caught at any time, even in proofreading.

Some definitions related to proofreading: Proving type – and that is a wonderful term that has unfortunately fallen out of use – in its original form involves working with a galley proof. If the page of type has been put together, that's called a page proof.

Chapter Two


Style

Style evolved as a natural consequence of typesetting and printing. The art of printing dictates neatness, orderliness and consistency. This must begin with the words on the page: how they are spelled, punctuated, abbreviated, hyphenated, etc.


Because of the nature of the printing industry in early America, however, consistency usually extended only to an individual shop or printer. Of course, certain printers did such good work that they were imitated. And because printing was a trade, apprentices picked up approaches they were to use and pass on to people who eventually served as apprentices with them.
The accepted version of the English language in America has always been in a state of flux. Style changes, too. Style often changes in keeping with the language itself. They aren't necessarily together, though. Some areas of style remain in dispute.
The best example is the question of whether to put a comma before the word and in a series. English teachers use a style that requires the comma, journalists generally do not. An even greater area is capitalization. Journalists favor a down style. But in business, titles standing alone are often capitalized. Many people believe that capitalizing a word makes it more important. In our approach to style, that isn't a consideration.
Another difference is spelling. A word may have more than one spelling, and authorities may not agree on which spelling is preferred.
Nevertheless, the tendency toward standardization is strong among people who commit words to print. That concept helps explain the need for style. Verily, the demand for it!

The Development of Style

Something of a universal style exists in the United States today. It's what may be called the journalistic style. The basis of that style is the wire service stylebooks. The way they came to be tells us much about the development of language, typesetting and human nature.

With the coming of the Teletype to newsrooms in the 1920s and 1930s, local newspapers began to feel the influence of the wire services. The copy was in all caps and could be edited to conform to local style. Nonetheless, the impact was great, and rules about abbreviation and punctuation tended to become like those of the wire service style.
Eventually, the Teletypesetter came along. It wasn't a new invention, but by the time it made its way into the newsrooms in the early 1950s, the impact was revolutionary. To accommodate the Teletypesetter, wire services sent copy to newspaper subscribers that was justified and edited. Perforated tape accompanied the story. The tape could be fed into the Linotype or Intertype machines. The attachment on the machines was the Teletypesetter. Wire services usually sent the type on regional and state wires that became known as TTS wires, after the Teletypesetter.
Smaller and medium-sized newspapers had little choice than to go along with the style dictated by the wire services. Actually, they were to take part in formulating that style. But the process was by majority vote.
In the beginning, each wire service had its own style. The Associated Press was and is a member-owned agency. United Press was owned by Scripps-Howard at the time. International News Service was owned by the Hearst newspapers. Papers that took more than one wire service had a problem: which style to follow? This problem set in motion the need for agreement among the services.
United Press and International News Service merged into United Press International in 1958. In 1960, AP and UPI published the first joint stylebook and the style became uniform.

In arriving at this new, unified style, the wire services solicited the opinions of many people. The stylebooks, therefore, came to represent a consensus, or at least a majority. Sometimes style doesn't seem logical even today. Mostly it is, with exceptions. The exceptions occur as a result of either tradition or because the wire services are hesitant to change some of their approaches.

Since then individual newspapers have developed detail stylebooks. And the Associated Press Stylebook has been expanded and rearranged. Unfortunately, UPI is not a major player any longer.
When revisions were made in the AP Stylebook, attempts were made to resolve disagreements over certain aspects of style. But the committees in charge couldn't get editors to go along with some changes. An example was state abbreviations. Editors across the country voted on whether to stick with old wire service abbreviations or to switch to the newer United States Postal Service abbreviations. The editors liked the abbreviations they had been using and were adamant against a change.
Other stylebooks have been available from other sources, most notably the one published by The New York Times. The stylebooks of The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times can be bought on the open market, also. But no other stylebook has had the effect on style as the Associated Press Stylebook.
One of the reasons for the pervasiveness of the wire service style has been the use of the stylebooks as a teaching tool in college journalism and communications classes since the first wire service stylebook was published by The Associated Press in 1953. Students learned this style and took it off to various career endeavors with them. Other people came out of newspaper work into public relations, business communications, magazines and book publishing and brought the AP style with them. They developed a local style to fit the particular needs of the situation in which they worked. But the basis of that style always was AP.
Then students who studied the style became teachers, and they taught the style. Eventually this combined style was to become dominant in the United States.

Now, when students graduate in North Dakota or Delaware or Arizona and go to work, the style they are expected to know is the AP style. If the supervisor changes certain aspects of the style, the new staff member will be told that in this office the AP style is used with these exceptions. Learning the exceptions is much easier, of course, than having to learn entirely new style. This is why learning the style now, in college, is so important.

Style has to be learned only once. When you have it, you have it for a long, long time. At lease until it changes.

Specific Style

Editors must learn to isolate what they are looking for. This is part of the process of breaking editing down into a series of smaller concerns. Style has to be the first step. Eventually style becomes the most natural part of the process. That comes after the style is mastered.


When editors look at a sentence, they must ask a series of questions related to style. And for that reason, a list of the concerns related to style must be in the forefront of the editor's thinking. Broken down, the concerns might be approached like this:
l. Capitalization
2. Abbreviation
3. Numbers
4. Time
5. Punctuation
One way to learn style is to study these various categories in the original -- the stylebook. As would-be editors delve into style, they will tend to add subdivisions under these main headings and will learn to be especially watchful of specifics in each subdivision.
Much of style is based on logic or common sense. Exceptions abound. But once the basic logic of style is grasped, the exceptions can be accommodated. Also, problems recur. Some problems come up only once in a blue moon, but others are forever with us.
Here are simple statements regarding the style in each of the areas, with major exceptions:
Capitalization: Formal or official titles, as opposed to occupational titles, are capitalized before names but not when standing alone or when used after names.

Abbreviation: The wire service style makes the greatest departure from logic in dealing with abbreviations. Abbreviation of addresses, dates and states varies under certain conditions. This approach will be to go along with the wire service style in only one area: state abbreviations. When towns and cities are used with state names, we abbreviate: Opelousas, La. But, we abbreviate only the longer states. We don't abbreviate states with five letters or fewer. Those are Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Add to that Alaska and Hawaii, which we also do not abbreviate for other reasons. That gives us eight states we don't abbreviate and 42 we do.

Numbers: One through nine are spelled and l0 and up are figures. Except, ages are always figures. We try to avoid using a number above nine at the start of the sentence. But, don't modify the number at the start of the sentence carelessly. Avoid such words as some, many and most to modify the number. Use about. But be sure the number is a round number: about 20, not about 22.
Time: Keep time in its simplest form when referring to scheduled events: at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Don't arbitrarily put casual time into the same form. Let people write this way: He doesn't like 8 o'clock classes.
Punctuation: The biggest problems in style come with punctuation. Of those problems, the really big ones are with the comma, the apostrophe and the hyphen. They have to be learned. Punctuation is of vital importance because it provides the signposts for reading. The ability to handle punctuation well is one mark of a good editor.

Troublesome Areas in Style

1. Titles


Opening remarks will be made by Ambassador Jeremy Kaye.

Opening remarks will be made by the ambassador, Jeremy Kaye.

Opening remarks will be made by Jeremy Kaye, the ambassador.
2. Commas around dates and states
The rule that we do not use a comma before the word and in a series is superseded by the rule that commas are used around years in dates and states with towns and cities.
He was born on December 5, 1967, in Cleveland, Ohio.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 5, 1967.

The cities are Amherst, Mass., Berkeley, Calif., and Oxford, Miss.

The dates in question are May 30, 1979, August 10, 1983, and March 7, 1995.

3. Punctuation with attribution:

With direct quotations:
Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

“A penny saved is a penny earned,” Franklin said.

“A penny saved,” Franklin said, “is a penny earned.”
With paraphrased quotations:
Franklin said that a good way to earn a penny is to save one.

Or, Franklin said a good way to earn a penny is to save one.

Saving a penny, Franklin said, is the same as earning one.

A good way to earn a penny is to save one, Franklin said.


4. When to use a comma and when to use a semicolon
Members of the committee were Mary Jane Stevens from Des Moines, Iowa, Zack Belcher from Red Lodge, Mont., and George Jones from New Orleans.
Members of the committee were Mary Jane Stevens, a senior from Des Moines, Iowa; Zack Belcher, a sophomore from Red Lodge, Mont.; and George Jones, a graduate student from New Orleans.
Members of the committee were Debbie Price from Baltimore, Tom Belden from Philadelphia and Cheryl Bradshaw from Charlotte, N.C.
Members of the committee were Debbie Price, a freshman from Baltimore; Tom Belden, a junior from Philadelphia; and Cheryl Bradshaw, a freshman from Charlotte, N.C.
Members of the committee were Martha Hughes from Woodstock, N.Y., and John M. Kennedy from Springfield, Mass.
Members of the committee were Martha Hughes, a sophomore from Woodstock, N.Y., and John M. Kennedy, a senior from Springfield, Mass.
5. The hyphen in modification
Direct modification:
five-year plan, 100-yard dash, a 23-year-old student,

labor-saving devices, part-time job, well-dressed man


The suspensive hyphen:

five- and 10-year plans, 50- and 100-yard dashes,

20- and 21-year-old students, time- and labor-saving devices,

full- and part-time jobs.

All time, part time and full time in modification:
She has a full-time job and goes to school part time.
He is the Ole Miss all-time scoring leader.

He's the leading scorer of all time at Ole Miss.


6. Numbers, figures, ages, dates
It's 21 years old, but a 21-year-old. Also: 21-year-olds.

It's third grade, but third-grade teacher and third-grader.


It's 20s, 30s, 90s in reference to ages and temperatures.

It's '50s, '60s, '90s in reference to decades. 1950s, etc. is preferred.


Additional Concepts in Editing

Here are some additional matters to work on in editing:




  1. Watch for words that may be confused. These include such words as a lot (not alot), it's (meaning it is), who's or whose. Words ending in ly are not hyphenated. Irregardless isn’t a word. It’s supersede and sacrilegious. Disinterest does not mean not interested.




  1. Notice the difference in contractions and possession. Contractions:

who's, all's, it's, can't, you've. Possession: John's, Henry's, the Smiths' cat, the Jones' dog. Note the difference in plurals that require no apostrophe: The Smiths are going to Jackson Hole, Wyo., on their vacation.


  1. Be careful with Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Dr Pepper, 7-Eleven,

Rolls Royce, Neiman-Marcus, NorthPark, Snider Plaza and any other words that may have unusually spelling or punctuation. Of course, these words vary with location. You should make a list of the words that are difficult to spell where you are.
4. It's bachelor's degree and master's degree.


  1. Don't use the hyphen in such constructions as August 11-18.

Use to or through instead: August 11 through 18. Make it May 3 and 4 or May 3, 4 and 5, not May 3-4 or May 3-5.

Chapter Three





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