Week 1: Editing local copy
To keep staff-written copy clear, error-free and
legally safe, editors should be able to:
* Spot errors in spelling, grammar, and style.
* Make sure the story would be clear to your
spouse or friend or mother. If a question occurs
to you, make sure the story answers it before you send it on.
* Detect potential libel, or common danger areas.
* After reading a story, ask yourself: Is the
focus clear? Are the lead and focus backed up in the story?
Make sure you can answer these
* Sharpen the focus. Make sure the point is
clear or clearly alluded to by the 5th graph, and
certainly before story jumps to another page.
* As you edit, read out loud every sentence in
which a change is made, tomake sure it works
and that a new structural problem wasn't created
by the edit.
* Interpret jargon or journalese. Cut out
needless words. Change long and
complicated words to short and clear ones without
* Trim fat quotes to make them better. Kill or
quotes that let stories drift and readers wander.
Quotes that are dull or
laced with jargon do a story more harm than good.
* Legal flags: Even if you're not sure what it
is, alert a senior editor if
you sense a legal problem. A hundred false
alarms are better than a bad one
that got through.
* A good habit: Start each shift with a 5-minute
review of your style
Typical items on an editor's basic accuracy
numbers and math
locations / geography
names and titles
dates / time references
Week 2: Editing the wire
To effectively edit newswire copy, editors should
be able to
* Trim long stories or make briefs by carefully
compressing text to retain
key elements, rather than just cutting from the
bottom. Late in a story
there can be first mentions of key points.
* Eliminate repetition and unnecessary
* Do away with clutter and jargon.
* See and change non-Canadian or non-regional
* To condense text and avoid lopping off second
halves, be on the lookout
for long quotes that can be reduced or
paraphrased, weak quotes that can be
dropped, or redundant passages and comments the
story can simply do
* Except when deadline prohibits, read the full
story before editing it for
length. Stay in the habit of scanning the
complete story on your first
read-through, before editing. This drill
sharpens your ability to
speed-read large chunks of copy. When time is
tight, that's an invaluable
copy editing skill to have.
* Again, interpret jargon or journalese.
Taking care not to endanger
accuracy, change long and complicated words to
clear, intelligent ones.
Wire copy, especially in sports and
entertainment, can be prone to tired
clichés. Replace with straight talk.
* Cut clutter. Wire copy can be notorious for
repeating passages of wordy
official statements and releases. Without
stopping to do major rewrites,
always be ready to clip needless words out of
sentences. Clarify the story
and help the reader.
* Remember where your readers live. Make the
changes that ensure sure
terms of reference - locations, directions,
currency, land areas, even words
like "lorry" - make sense on the streets of
Hamilton. Be especially wary of
this in copy of non-Canadian origin.
Week 3: Headlines, cutlines, decks
The goal is to write clear and strong heads,
decks, cutlines that don't
overlap. To get there, editors should be able
* Sense and coordinate the efforts of the
* Be familiar with Spectator guidelines for the
* Be able to write consistently clear headlines
that are sometimes clever,
always informative and enticing.
* Keep in mind that heads, decks, captions and
even pull-quotes should each
bring new information to the package.
* Above all, headlines should strive for clarity
and accuracy. Don't steal
the lead or a story's punchline. Use strong,
* Simple is best: Don't try to say too many
things in a head.
* Help yourself: Jot down four or five key
words while editing the story.
They'll act as prompts, and ignite ideas when
you're writing the headline.
* Help yourself: One way to come up with catchy
word plays for features is
to start with the central subject word, then
write down any phrases or
themes that use the same word. One or more may
be good heads (i.e.,
'Skirting the issue' for a fashion spread, or
'Clear thinking on
sunglasses', or a landscaping piece headlined
'Life in the bush leagues').
* Help yourself: Regularly read the Spectator
guidelines for heads and
Week 4: The importance of proofing
The goal is to catch errors in edited copy as
well as in components
(headlines, captions) that the copy editor wrote.
Editors must find ways to stay on top of:
* The first-degree killers: typos in heads,
cutlines and leads; or stories
that don't end because their last lines
got bumped off the
page and into outer space. (This drives
* Names, for consistent spelling and for use of
full name and title.
* Numbers, for being accurate and making sense.
* Calendars and event listings.
* Help yourself: Based on your own strengths and
blind spots, devise achecklist to ensure all content
components get an itemized examination
before being sent back to the slot. All of us
benefit from such memory aids. Use it as routinely
as writers use story outlines.
* Double-check the spelling of every name in a
* Check with the reporter if you sense that ages
or salaries or budgets or
tender bids seem unlikely.
* Make sure percentages don't add up to more
than 100, that a keystrokedidn't turn millions into
billions, a missing zero in a headline doesn't
turn $750,000 into $75,000.
* Make sure the whole story is there, that a late
editing change didn't bumpthe end of a story off
the page. Do this check often: after every editing
change, and once again before sending the work
back to slot.
* Double-check all jumps, to make sure readers
are being sent to the correct page.
* Don't rely on other departments: always check
folio lines for correct
date and page number.
* Event calendars are an act of faith, but as a
bare minimum for readers,check for duplicate
listings, events that have already occurred, faulty
dates (i.e. "Monday May 12", when in fact Monday
is the 11th), or listings with no location or contact number.