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Archive for March, 2011

Copyediting Tip of the Week: The copyeditor is dead. Long live the content editor.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

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bullet-glyph21The copyeditor is dead. Long live the content editor.

I recently attended the American Copy Editors Society’s (ACES’s) annual conference. In the hotel elevator, I overheard one young woman ask a conference attendee who was wearing his name badge what a copyeditor is. She was with her girlfriends and was flirting a bit, but she honestly seemed to have had no idea what a copyeditor is. How many others out there, those who actually need us, don’t know what a copyeditor is and why they might need one?

With publishing houses and newspapers drastically cutting editors and companies sending jobs overseas, we must educate those around us about what we do and why it’s important. The conference’s closing session, The Future of Editing, underscored that point by looking not only at where we are but also where we are going.

Henry Fuhrman Fuhrmann, assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, reminded us of copyeditors’ role with a slide that said, “Copyeditors see what others don’t.” “What good is it if we can see but our bosses can’t?” Fuhrman Fuhrmann asked. We have to educate our bosses and clients about what we do and why it has value. “We have to do a better job telling our story,” he said.

Copyediting is something that’s done after the writers go home, said Merrill Perlman, retired director of copy desks at the New York Times and editing consultant and educator. Copyeditors are geeky and hard to manage. Few people understand what we do. When that happens, companies question our value and cut jobs. Said Perlman, “The copyeditor is dead.”

We must stop calling ourselves copyeditors, said Perlman. It’s a word (two if you follow ACES’s style) loaded with too many negative connotations. She suggested that we own a buzzword and become content editors. Copyeditors are expendable. Content editors are vital. It doesn’t matter if we’re coaching those creating the content or actually making the changes. It doesn’t matter if the work will appear in print or somewhere in the digital ether. No one knows what we know. “Our jobs are to educate,” she said. “I am a communicator.”

Part of being a content editor is helping push the content out to the public. According to Chris Barr, senior editorial director of Yahoo News, to get content out there, we must make it social. What does that mean? “We’re still figuring that out,” said Barr. What’s been working so far is using “social hooks to amplify discovery and distribution of content.”

That means first of all, and most important, creating content that is clear, concise, and consistent. Easy enough; that’s what we copyeditors live and breathe for. But it also means understanding and applying sound principles of search engine optimization (SEO). Eighty percent of content’s social activity takes place in the first 24 hours; however, with good SEO, a story “can have legs for years,” said Barr. Apply SEO, choose keywords wisely, and know which social platforms are best for your audience.

Another part of being a content editor is understanding that the Internet in general and information retrieval (i.e., using search engines) in particular are changing how our brains work. “Who is going to read what we’re working on?” asked Maggie Walter, professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “How does their brain process that information?” To help produce clear, valuable copy for the reader, copyeditors must be able to answer these questions. Walter pointed to The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink as books to help us understand this change.

Although no one can say for sure where publishing is going, we can say this: people are still reading. They still want the written word, and as long as they do, copyeditors have a place in the process. We have to be vocal about the value we bring to the written word. We have to demonstrate how copyediting is important. And we have to be willing to embrace new technology and expand our role.

My fellow conference attendee from the elevator didn’t answer the young woman’s question, perhaps sensing that she didn’t really care. The future of copyediting depends on us not only answering that question but also making people, especially those who would hire us, care.

What do you think the future of copyediting is? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting needs a new copyeditor. Could it be you?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Copyediting is currently in need of a new contract copyeditor. Could it be you? Beyond being a steady contract, this position offers tremendous bragging rights. As you know, Copyediting’s audience is one of the toughest to write and edit for. Your skills must be impeccable.

Here are the details:

Description: You would be part of a team that rigorously copyedits the bimonthly newsletter. You will edit for grammar, style, punctuation, spelling, usage, and correctness. You must closely adhere to deadlines.

Experience required: Five-plus years of copyediting experience, preferably with print newsletters. Must have proficient knowledge of language and editing to ensure subject matter is correct. Must have working knowledge of Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed.

Technology required: MS Word, Adobe Acrobat, e-mail

Applicants will be asked to take an editing test. Send your resume and a cover letter to me at editor@copyediting.com.

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Grammar contest breakdown, part 2

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

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bullet-glyph21Grammar contest breakdown, part 2

Last week, we looked at the first five sentences in Copyediting’s National Grammar Day Contest. This week, we’ll look at the last five sentences. Let’s jump right in.

6. The vice president flew to the Paris Conference, but few concrete results were accomplished by him.

Sentence 6 is awkward. The first part of the sentence focuses on the VP; it’s active and direct. We can easily picture the VP flying to Paris for the conference named for that city. The second half of the sentence shifts focus from the VP to his results and is in the passive voice. We can smooth out the awkwardness by keeping the VP the subject of both actions. There’s more than one way to do this:

The vice president flew to the Paris Conference but returned with few concrete results.
The vice president flew to the Paris Conference, but he accomplished few concrete results.
The vice president attended the Paris conference but accomplished few concrete results.

Be sure, however, if you have just one subject for both verbs that you don’t separate the subject from either verb with a comma:

The vice president flew to the Paris Conference, but accomplished few concrete results.

7. The experienced yachtsman is aware of the danger of fire, and, when filling the gas tank, great precautions are taken not to spill gasoline in the bottom of the boat.

Again we have an awkward transition from the first half of the sentence to the second. The experienced yachtsman is the subject of the first clause, but he disappears from the second clause. Further complicating the issue is when filling the gas tank. Having been introduced to the yachtsman, we expect him to be doing the filling. However, the subject of the next clause shifts to great precautions. Precautions aren’t something to be doing the filling. Our best course of action is to keep the yachtsman doing the action in the second clause. Contest entrants offered many grammatical ways to do this, including:

The experienced yachtsman is aware of the danger of fire, and, when filling the gas tank, he takes great precautions not to spill gasoline into the bottom of the boat.
The experienced yachtsman is aware of the danger of fire, so he takes great precautions to not spill gasoline in the bottom of the boat while filling the gas tank.

8. Audiences appeared to enjoy the play, the reviews in the papers, however, were unfavorable.

Here we have a comma splice: two independent clauses joined only by a comma. There is more than one way to fix this, and contest entrants successfully applied several methods: some made the two clauses into two sentences, some add a conjunction before the second clause, and others changed the comma between the clauses into a semicolon:

Audiences appeared to enjoy the play. The reviews in the papers, however, were unfavorable.
Audiences appeared to enjoy the play, but the reviews in the papers were unfavorable.
Audiences appeared to enjoy the play; the reviews in the papers, however, were unfavorable.

9. Lacking sufficient capital to weather the depression, a rival firm with greater resources bought him out.

Sentence 9 presents us with a modifier problem. As the sentence was written, lacking sufficient capital to weather the depression modifies the subject of the sentence: a rival firm. Clearly, if the rival firm is buying someone out, it must have enough money to weather the depression. Whoever him refers to at the end of the sentence is the one without enough capital. We can fix the sentence by making the subject of the sentence the him who lacks resources or putting that him in the modifier and leaving the firm as the subject of the sentence:

Lacking sufficient capital to weather the depression, he was bought out by a rival firm with greater resources.
Because he lacked sufficient capital to weather the depression, a rival firm with greater resources bought him out.

10. Expecting bad news at any moment, the fact that long distance was calling me nearly frightened me to death.

Our last sentence is another modifier problem. As the sentence stands, expecting bad news at any moment modifies the fact that long distance was calling me. We know a fact can’t expect news of any sort. Again, we can fix the sentence by changing the subject of the sentence to the intended noun to be modified or putting the intended noun to be modified in the modifying phrase and leaving the subject alone:

Expecting bad news at any moment, I was nearly frightened to death by the fact that long distance was calling me.
I expected bad news at any moment, and the fact that long distance was calling me nearly frightened me to death.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the comments section below.

Please note: there will not be a Tip next week, March 22, because I will be attending the ACES conference this week. If you’ll be at ACES, come introduce yourself to me!Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Grammar contest breakdown, part 1

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

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bullet-glyph21Grammar contest breakdown, part 1

Many people who entered Copyediting’s National Grammar Day Contest wanted to know not just what they got wrong but also why. Because we received so many entries (thank you, all!), I couldn’t respond to each person individually. Instead, this week and next, I’ll review each sentence and an explanation of why it was wrong and at least one possible fix. Let’s get started.

1. The firm can either reduce expenses by curtailing its workforce or postpone factory renovations.

This sentence had a couple of problems. Most people caught that in the prepositional phrase by curtailing its working force or postpone factory renovations, postpone should be postponing. A nominalization of the verb postpone is needed to act as the object of the preposition by.

Fixing postpone, many people missed a problem with parallelism. The firm has a choice, positioned as either … or. When we use either … or, the words that follow either must parallel the ones that follow or. As it stands, the firm can either reduce expenses or postpone factory renovations. However, once we change postpone to postponing, postponing is no longer working with reduce. Though some could argue that the parallelism is correct with either reduce … or postpone, logically that doesn’t work. Whether the firm lays off works or puts off renovations, it is still reducing its expenses. The intent, then, must be to outline the choice: lay people off and renovate the factory as planned or keep all employees and put off renovations.

To fix this, we can do one of a few things:

The firm can reduce expenses by either curtailing its workforce or postponing factory renovations.
The firm can reduce expenses either by curtailing its workforce or by postponing factory renovations.
The firm can reduce expenses by curtailing its workforce or postponing factory renovations.

2. Miss Lang had not directed many plays, and she knew how to manage an inexperienced cast.

It’s seems an odd idea that if Miss Lang hadn’t directed many plays that she knew how to manage an inexperienced cast. It would be logical that if Miss Lang was an inexperienced director, she was also inexperienced at managing inexperienced actors. In the isolation of this sentence, we can presume both parts of the sentence are true, so we want a conjunction that shows that Miss Lang defies common logic:

Miss Lang had not directed many plays, but she knew how to manage an inexperienced cast.

In the real world, which several entrants mentioned, we might have context to tell us if these two ideas are both correct. If they’re not, we can correct the faulty statement. If the context doesn’t tell us, we might query the author about the statement’s accuracy.

3. Because their principal crop was potatoes and the potato season was poor, the farmers managed to avoid going into debt.

The conjunction because means “for the reason that.” In this sentence, the farmers did not go into debt for the reason that their main crop did poorly that year. That doesn’t make sense; to fix it, we should choose another conjunction that tells the reader that even though the potato season was poor, the potato farmers did not go into debt, as we might otherwise expect:

Although their principal crop was potatoes and the potato season was poor, the farmers managed to avoid going into debt.

Yet we are assuming that the potato season was poor means that the farmers’ crop was poor. It’s a logical assumption, especially out of context. But as some entrants noted, in the real world, we might want to query the writer on whether this assumption is accurate. As other entrants parsed the sentence, it could be that the farmers didn’t go into debt because their crop of potatoes was healthy and some other farmers’ crops of potatoes were not as healthy. Thus, our farmers sold more potatoes. Rather than just adding facts to the sentence, we can query the author with this possibility.

4. Macbeth’s mind was constantly imagining horrible things, and that frightened him.

This sentence stumped a lot of people. The problem is the antecedent for him. It can only be Macbeth’s mind, which should be an it and is not something we usually described as frightened. We don’t think of feelings as happening in the mind but in the person as a whole.

The simplest way to correct the antecedent problem is to change the antecedent. If Macbeth’s mind was imagining horrible things, then all of Macbeth was imagining them.

Macbeth was constantly imagining horrible things, and that frightened him.

In trying to fix the sentence, some people changed the sentence to mean that Macbeth was imagining horrible, frightening things. It could be that these horrible imaginings were also frightening, but I’d argue that the sentence is saying that Macbeth is frightened by all the horrible things he is imagining. It’s the fact that he’s thinking these awful things that scares him. Another good edit, which puts the important point first, is:

Macbeth was frightened by the fact that his mind was constantly imagining horrible things.

5. He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality, but it doesn’t make him any richer.

Here we have another pronoun/antecedent problem. What does it stand for? The antecedent is ambiguous. Most readers would interpret it to mean He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality. Some entrants changed it to that, but we’re left with the same ambiguity:

He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality, and that doesn’t make him any richer.

We want to make it clear in the second half of the sentence that his conscientiousness, work ethic, and engaging personality don’t make him rich. Here are some solutions that work (the first is the one I offered on Friday):

He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality, but these traits don’t make him any richer.
He is a conscientious and hard-working man with an engaging personality, but those qualities don’t make him any richer.
He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality. These traits, however, do not make him any richer.

The key is to ensure the pronoun really refers to the antecedent we want it to.

Next week, we’ll look at sentences 6 through 10.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: National Grammar Day Contest Winners

Friday, March 4th, 2011

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bullet-glyph21National Grammar Day Contest Winners

Happy National Grammar Day, everyone! Thanks to all who participated in our National Grammar Day contest, and congratulations to our winners: Seamane Flanagan, Lynn Arts, and Anne H. Swigart. Each will receive a copy of the Quick Check Editorial Reference Cards, with such tips as correct adjective word order and formulas for calculating percentages.

Here are the correct answers to the contest questions. Answers could vary, but they had to be grammatically correct and not sound awkward.

Answers to Copyediting’s National Grammar Day Contest

  1. The firm can either reduce expenses by curtailing its working force or postpone factory renovations.
    Better: The firm can reduce expenses by either curtailing its workforce or postponing factory renovations.
  2. Miss Lang had not directed many plays, and she knew how to manage an inexperienced cast.
    Better: Miss Lang had not directed many plays, but she knew how to manage an inexperienced cast.
  3. Because their principal crop was potatoes and the potato season was poor, the farmers managed to avoid going into debt.
    Better: Although their principal crop was potatoes and the potato season was poor, the farmers managed to avoid going into debt.
  4. Macbeth’s mind was constantly imagining horrible things, and that frightened him.
    Better: Macbeth was constantly imagining horrible things, and that frightened him.
  5. He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality, but it doesn’t make him any richer.
    Better: He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality, but these traits don’t make him any richer.
  6. The vice president flew to the Paris Conference, but few concrete results were accomplished by him.
    Better: The vice president flew to the Paris Conference but returned with few concrete results.
  7. The experienced yachtsman is aware of the danger of fire, and, when filling the gas tank, great precautions are taken not to spill gasoline in the bottom of the boat.
    Better: The experienced yachtsman is aware of the danger of fire, and, when filling the gas tank, he takes great precautions not to spill gasoline into the bottom of the boat.
  8. Audiences appeared to enjoy the play, the reviews in the papers, however, were unfavorable.
    Better: Audiences appeared to enjoy the play, but the reviews in the papers were unfavorable.
  9. Lacking sufficient capital to weather the depression, a rival firm with greater resources bought him out.
    Better: Lacking sufficient capital to weather the depression, he was bought out by a rival firm with greater resources.
  10. Expecting bad news at any moment, the fact that long distance was calling me nearly frightened me to death.
    Better: Expecting bad news at any moment, I was nearly frightened to death by that long-distance call.

If you’re looking more National Grammar Day fun, head on over to the official website.
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Tip of the Week: National Grammar Day Contest

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

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bullet-glyph21National Grammar Day Contest

We’ve been discussing controversial grammar points a lot lately. In honor of Grammar Day on March 4, let’s take a step back today and have a little fun. Below is a quiz, culled from the books on my bookshelf. Take the quiz, and send me your answers via e-mail by Thursday, March 3, at 9 am (ET). The three responses with the most correct answers will receive our Quick Check Editorial Reference Cards and bragging rights. Put together by Wendalyn Nichols, these cards offer quick hits, such as websites for fact-checking and language questions, how to hyphenate a phrasal adjective, and a list of commonly misused words. In the event of more than three responses with the most correct answers, winners will be randomly drawn.

Answers and winners will be announced on Friday, March 4, in this space. In many cases, more than one correct answer is possible. I will judge a correct answer as a sentence that is grammatically correct without sounding awkward. All decisions are final.

Are you game? Let’s go!

Copyediting’s National Grammar Day Contest

Correct the following sentences for grammar.

  1. The firm can either reduce expenses by curtailing its working force or postpone factory renovations.
  2. Miss Lang had not directed many plays, and she knew how to manage an inexperienced cast.
  3. Because their principal crop was potatoes and the potato season was poor, the farmers managed to avoid going into debt.
  4. Macbeth’s mind was constantly imagining horrible things, and that frightened him.
  5. He is a conscientious, hard-working man with an engaging personality, but it doesn’t make him any richer.
  6. The vice president flew to the Paris Conference, but few concrete results were accomplished by him.
  7. The experienced yachtsman is aware of the danger of fire, and, when filling the gas tank, great precautions are taken not to spill gasoline in the bottom of the boat.
  8. Audiences appeared to enjoy the play, the reviews in the papers, however, were unfavorable.
  9. Lacking sufficient capital to weather the depression, a rival firm with greater resources bought him out.
  10. Expecting bad news at any moment, the fact that long distance was calling me nearly frightened me to death.

You may request that your name not be published if you win. You must e-mail your answers to editor@copyediting.com by Thursday, March 3, at 9 am (ET). You must also be willing to give us your mailing address to receive your prize, should you win. Answers and winners will be announced on Friday, March 4.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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