Sunday, September 12, 2010

Help wanted: Another editing study

For a research project, I’m seeking help in determining the indicators of good editing: things you see -- or don't see -- that tell you a story has gotten appropriate treatment at the stage between the writer and the reader.  If you’re interested, please answer these questions in the comments field (or send an e-mail if you prefer). I'm especially interested in the opinions of editors, but non-editors and non-journalists are encouraged to join in too.
  • What are three features of grammar that help you tell whether a story was well edited?
  • What are three features of style that help you tell whether a story was well edited?
  • What are three features of content that help you tell whether a story was well edited?
Would you describe yourself as:
            A heavy reader of news?
            A moderate reader of news?
            A light reader of news?

Are you:
            An editor in print or online journalism?
            A print or online journalist who isn’t an editor?
            An editor who doesn’t work in print or online journalism?
            An academic?
            None of those?

I plan to use answers in designing the study. The goal is to see how audiences perceive the importance of editing. Feel free to answer anonymously; I’ll treat answers as anonymous, and they won’t appear in the study itself. I'm also posting this at ACES and TCEs. (Sharing encouraged, but one response to a customer, please.) Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for your consideration.


Anonymous Wayne C said...

not necessarily ranked in importance

1. correct use of antecedents.
2. subject-verb agreement.
3. punctuation that enhances clarity.

1. consistency within the story.
2. consistency with the rest of the publication.
3. making clarity, not tone-deaf adherence to style, the priority.

1. Clarity
2. Factual accuracy
3. Fairness

Heavy reader of news.

Editor, primarily in print but increasingly in online journalism.

1:07 AM, September 13, 2010  
Blogger Allison Morrow said...

What are three features of grammar that help you tell whether a story was well edited?
1. basic avoidance of common mistakes: who/whom, if/whether, compare to/compare with etc.
2. appreciation for varying sentence structure
3. active sentences outnumber passive ones

What are three features of style that help you tell whether a story was well edited?

1. Consistency.
2. Consistency.
3. Consistency.

What are three features of content that help you tell whether a story was well edited?
1. Accuracy
2. Attribution
3. More nouns than adjectives

--Heavy reader of news

--News editor for daily print and online publication

2:28 AM, September 13, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I can give exactly three features for each area, but here's a general sense of what I look for:

Are the norms of grammar and punctuation followed with intelligence and sensitivity, as opposed to dogmatic adherence to oversimplified rules? For example, I encounter far too many writers (and perhaps also editors) who appear to believe that every open-quote must be preceded by a comma, no matter what. They often end up making titles sound like non-restrictive appositives, even when they're clearly not supposed to be. ("Yeats's poem, 'The Second Coming'" makes it sound like you think it's the only one he wrote.)

• Does the style suit the subject? If this is hard news, I want clear, straightforward, unobtrusive prose (which requires more craft than many people think). If this is opinion/analysis, then a few rhetorical flourishes are okay.
• When long or unusual words are used, are they used for precision, or just for prestige?
• If the piece employs any form of figurative language, does it do so effectively, or does it lose track of itself and start mixing metaphors or slipping into clichés?

• Are all the relevant facts included? Are all the included facts relevant?
• When a quoted source says something that is demonstrably factually untrue, does the article point this out? (Or does it just quote someone else contradicting the first source, without presuming to know (or care) what the truth is?)
• Are statistics handled with appropriate caution?

I'm an academic, and under ordinary circumstances a moderate reader of news. (Lately, I've been a light reader of news, because I've been living in a country where most of the newspapers are written in a language I don't know very well.)

8:52 AM, September 13, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

I'm having some trouble getting comments to appear -- trying some fixes now. Apologies.

4:21 PM, September 14, 2010  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...


1) Punctuation that indicates a clear understanding of the sentence's meaning and operates to exclude misreadings

2) Absence of dangling modifiers

3) Proper control of parenthetical and subordinate clauses


1) Style that is never unthinkingly applied to the detriment of the sentence

2) Consistency in important areas, eg spelling of transliterated proper nouns (Arabic names/places, Cyrillic-alphabet names/places etc). Far more important to get this consistent and spell 'judgement' two different ways than vice versa

3) Absence of fussiness in the style guide itself eg not insisting on points after abbreviations, not too much upstyle etc (more of an organisational-culture issue than a standard-of-editing issue, I know, but 'editing' in its broadest sense)


1) Attribution (anonymous sources are not necessarily a problem as long as their qualification to speak and reason for anonymity is credible)

2) Balance or indication that the right to reply has been offered and refused

3) Absence of rhetoric (assuming a news piece, not a comment piece)

Heavy reader of news

Sub-editor in print and online journalism

5:57 PM, September 14, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

+1 to q-pheevr

Non-professional news user, and only rare consumer of printed-on-dead-tree news.

2:47 AM, September 16, 2010  

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