An Editor’s Work is Not Quite Never Done

I create, design, and write for the Emerson College Journalism Department’s newsletter. Below is an article I wrote about editing for our most recent issue (February/March 2012).

The designed page:
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An Editor’s Work is Not Quite Never Done
By Alexa Lash

Despite the fact I’m out of college, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing and editing; I live by the credo that a paper without edit marks is just words on a page. You need to look back at what you’ve written, to breathe grammatical life into unedited sentences. And if you find yourself in need of ideas, I have a few editing tips that may work for you as they’ve worked for me.

Louder, Please
Reading your work out loud, whether alone, in front of an audience, or to a tape recorder, is important for more than finding repetitive points. You can pick up double words, misspellings, missing words, and tone; flawed logic and weak points. And if you find yourself saying, “I wouldn’t really say that, would I?” then reading out loud has helped you find your voice, too. It’s one of the easiest tricks to self editing, and something I still do with everything from texts and tests, to short stories.

Time Heals All Wounds
Sometimes you need a little distance from your work. If you have the time, or even if you don’t, set down your work for an hour or a few days. Distancing yourself from your writing helps you come back to it with a keener editing eye. You’ll likely see what you would have missed if you’d edited while you wrote.

Book Smarts
Keep your stylebooks close at hand (the real editors do it, so why shouldn’t you?). Some of the texts I have include the 2011 AP Stylebook, the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook, and a dictionary and thesaurus (if you’re not near a computer).

Help Me, Seymore
Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Another pair of eyes on your work can be equally, if not more effective than giving your piece distance. Help can range from your college writing center, to a professor or a classmate. Be wary when you ask for your friend’s help; you’ll want an unbiased eye to look at your writing.

Practice Makes Sort Of Perfect
Practice editing and good writing beyond the work you do for school: edit your emails, find mistakes in the newspaper, etc. Offer to edit work for other people.

A Pen of a Different Color
When you’re editing your work, or having a friend edit, pick a pen color that doesn’t terrify you. Red is such a strong color; picking an alternate hue, like purple, will ease the stress and be less of a burden to look at if there are a lot of edits needed on a page.

Three Strikes
You should be editing your work more than once. You can do different types of editing to multiple drafts, or split your editing between local (line-by-line) and global (major aspects such as overall theme and focus) types. If you look at your draft once and think it’s perfect, at least hand it over to another person to see if it’s clean copy. You’d be surprised with what you miss.

Avoid the Easy
As wonderful as programs like Word are, you shouldn’t depend on them. Homophones and dual spellings can be overlooked. And if you use fragments for effect, it’ll keep marking those statements incorrect. Once you know the rules of grammar, breaking them can be OK, with care.

Reflect the Possibilities
This tip is one I learned from a leadership program. Put your goals on a mirror: editing goals, what grade you’re going for. Having what you want written out helps you get the work done, and pushes you harder to achieve those goals if you see them every morning when you brush your teeth (or so we hope).

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