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It's all up to you now

At Lingua Franca, Carol Saller offers some sound advice on self-editing.* You should read what she has to say, and also the useful comments on the post, because the War on Editing is leaving you alone and unprotected out there. If you don’t spot it and fix it, it probably won’t get fixed at all.

Her advice there is all good. Unless there’s a gun at your head, take a break after you finish a draft and try to come back to give it a fresh look. Get to the point. Watch out for your own tics. Beware bogus advice. So are the suggestions in the comments: Read the text out loud. Print it out and read it; people notice things on the printed page that they do not spot on a screen.

I have a few suggestions of my own.

Arm yourself with the tools for the job. Dipping into Garner on Usage and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage will make you more knowledgeable and self-aware as a writer. Bookmark the electronic references you find most reliable and useful. (Hint: Comb Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base.)

Don’t neglect the spell-check function on the machine. It won’t protect you from the wrong word correctly spelled, but it will highlight your typos and inconsistencies in spelling proper names. Run the spell-check as the last thing you do before shipping the text.

Making some kind of outline before writing is a good idea. Another good idea is to go over the text afterward and identify the components in an outline. That will help you spot whether you have structured and organized the text effectively.

Revision is tedious and frustrating. Do it anyway.

Write a headline for your text. If you cannot summarize the main point in six to eight words, you may not have an adequate focus.

Pace while you write, or take a walk between drafts. That pushes blood up to the brain where you need it.

Coffee, tea, and water enhance self-editing; gin does not.

When you err, and you will, take correction humbly and gratefully.


*Disclosure: Ms. Saller’s post includes this endorsement: “Writers would profit from hanging out at John E. McIntyre’s blog, You Don’t Say (it’s worth climbing that pay wall). An editor at the Baltimore Sun, Mr. McIntyre provides classy entertainment educating readers on issues like these.”

Now I suppose I will have to give good value.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:03 PM | | Comments (7)


You make me feel guilty. So right, so right, I know. But, see, getting online before I can really see yet, while the caffeine is trying to rev my brain, still in half-asleep mode, letting my fingers type whatever they want to as I ramble on, hitting post and send w/o even looking because I need to see the next 10 messages I must respond to.... well that's how I wake up in the morning! Making it like work will, well, just make it work! OK, done complaining. I will freshen up and start showing people some respect. Thank you for the reminders. All wonderful. Wait, did you include read backwards?

Tea does indeed enhance self-editing ... and editing of all kinds. I do not ever start editing until I have had some tea.

Another suggestion. When you've finished a numbers story, do as my stepson does. He computer-searches for "illions" as a way to ensure that he doesn't write trillions when he means billions or billions when he means millions or some such error.

Does vokdah helped?

But gin enhances so many other things.

And don't neglect checking for subject-verb agreement, and pronouns with clear antecedents that agree in number -- both issues particularly problematic in sentences with more than one clause. Oh -- and watch out for commas separating subject and verb, except for parenthetical purpose. (And watch out for sentences beginning with And.)
That is all.
Or maybe not. Forgot to mention: If you do not know firsthand and with certainty the spelling of a name, look it up! Twice!!

When writing memos outlining staffing needs for newspaper election night coverage, bag it for the night and finish the memo the next day when you start drifting into sarcastic, if self-satisfying, comments about staff cuts.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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