Copy-Editing for the Web


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A presentation given at MagNet 2010 with Jaclyn Law

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  • - print and read on paper - you'll catch more errors - some copy editors read with a ruler - could read once for overall meaning, and copy edit on second pass
  • Example: Cottage Life uses serial comma because they feel, “Hey, it’s the cottage, you have more time to read, and it’s OK to slow down.”
  • Also, magazines I’ve worked with use Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary to look up word breaks.
  • Copy-Editing for the Web

    1. 1. Quick Copy-Editing for the Web <ul><li>Jaclyn Law and Kat Tancock </li></ul>
    2. 2. 2 Why copy edit? It’s your last line of defense against errors like these….
    3. 3. 3 Diana, Princess of Whales
    4. 4. 4 “ Due to a typographical error, a previous version of this article said that the amount of losses from Monday’s market collapse was $1,300 trillion. The correct amount is $1.3 trillion.” Wall Street Journal’s
    5. 5. 4 Source:
    6. 6. 4 Source:
    7. 7. 7 From a student newspaper at Brandeis University: The original article provided the incorrect location of New York University’s new institution. It is in Abu Dhabi, not Abu Ghraib. Source:
    8. 8. 8 From a review of a cosmetic-dentistry clinic: Patients can leave up to eight shades whiter after one sitting.
    9. 10. Two key rules for editing your site <ul><li>Be consistent </li></ul><ul><li>Be organized </li></ul>
    10. 11. Develop your skills <ul><li>Know your own errors and double-check them </li></ul><ul><li>Take a class if you can </li></ul><ul><li>Try to give yourself at least a day to proofread </li></ul><ul><li>Slow down and really look </li></ul>
    11. 12. What is copy editing? <ul><li>Editing copy for grammar, punctuation, spelling and usage to make it clean, clear, concise and consistent </li></ul><ul><li>Dealing with word repetition, redundancy, clichés, jargon, lack of logic, offensive or outdated language, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Ensuring copy works with the layout </li></ul>12
    12. 13. Why you need to copy edit <ul><li>Errors confuse and annoy readers. They also reflect poorly on your publication and your brand. </li></ul><ul><li>Copy editing elevates your articles. </li></ul><ul><li>You can’t rely on spell-checkers. </li></ul>13
    13. 14. Copy editing tips <ul><li>Allow yourself plenty of time and space. </li></ul><ul><li>Invest in good reference books. </li></ul><ul><li>You’ll catch more errors on paper. </li></ul><ul><li>Some editors read twice – first for meaning, second time to make changes. </li></ul><ul><li>Some editors read with a ruler. </li></ul>15
    14. 15. Repurposing from print <ul><li>If cutting, double-check attributions </li></ul><ul><li>Watch for &quot;on page x,&quot; &quot;in the chart above&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>Check for info in captions, sidebars, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Watch for line breaks, end marks, capitalization/drop caps, bullets </li></ul><ul><li>Remove/rework time references and seasonal references </li></ul>
    15. 16. How long should content stay up? <ul><li>Edit for forever </li></ul><ul><li>Include a publication date </li></ul><ul><li>If necessary, program an offline date with your CMS </li></ul><ul><li>But—make sure all URLs go somewhere (even if it's a redirect) </li></ul>
    16. 17. <ul><li>Know when to back off. Sometimes, preserving personality and colour is more important than perfect grammar. </li></ul><ul><li>Have a reason for making changes. Don’t change something just because that’s how you would write it. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t worry – nobody knows everything about grammar and punctuation. The key is knowing where to look up the answers. </li></ul>17
    17. 18. Web editorial process <ul><li>Check each other's work. </li></ul><ul><li>Get colleagues' help when you can. </li></ul><ul><li>Never take off your copy editor's hat. </li></ul><ul><li>Use spell-check (but don't stop there). </li></ul><ul><li>Watch for Canadian spelling. </li></ul><ul><li>Double-check everything you typed into the CMS. </li></ul>
    18. 19. Make use of the web <ul><li>Link out to sources (e.g., Health Canada) </li></ul><ul><li>Check for dead links ( </li></ul><ul><li>Google sources' names to double-check spelling (and link to them) </li></ul>
    19. 20. Dealing with errors <ul><li>&quot;Report typo&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>Strikethroughs </li></ul><ul><li>Updates at end of article/post </li></ul><ul><li>Date your content and identify source </li></ul><ul><li>Don't make major changes without identifying them to readers </li></ul><ul><li>Follow up on comments </li></ul>
    20. 21. Example:
    21. 22. Example:
    22. 23. Example: &quot;Updated to add:&quot;
    23. 24. Example: Note strikethrough
    24. 25. Top 6 things that bug your readers <ul><li>Lack of subject-verb agreement </li></ul><ul><li>Sentence fragments </li></ul><ul><li>Dangling modifiers </li></ul><ul><li>Comma splices </li></ul><ul><li>Faulty parallelism </li></ul><ul><li>Poorly constructed lists </li></ul><ul><li>Vague pronouns </li></ul>
    25. 26. 1. Lack of subject-verb agreement <ul><li>Singular subjects take singular verbs; plural subjects take plural verbs. </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid choosing the wrong word as the sentence subject e.g., “The designer’s collection of shoes were very stylish.” (The subject is the collection.) </li></ul><ul><li>Treat compound subjects (e.g., “Sugar and butter”) as separate items (“Sugar and butter are tasty.”) </li></ul><ul><li>Some plural words are mistakenly treated as singular (data, media, phenomena). </li></ul>25
    26. 27. Subject-verb agreement cont’d <ul><li>Some terms get a singular verb even if they sound plural e.g., “Two weeks is the typical incubation period.” </li></ul><ul><li>Collective nouns (e.g., team, board, group) are single units, so they take singular verbs, except in situations like this one: “The committee are debating the budget.” (A single unit can’t debate itself.) </li></ul>26
    27. 28. <ul><li>Two subjects joined by “nor” or “or” take a singular verb if both subjects are singular e.g., “Neither Elaine nor Jerry remembers the date of Kramer’s birthday.” </li></ul><ul><li>Two subjects joined by “nor” or “or” take a plural verb if the subject closest to the verb is plural, or if both subjects are plural e.g., “At our charity events, neither the singer nor the back-up dancers receive payment.” </li></ul>Subject-verb agreement cont’d 27
    28. 29. <ul><li>Some words always take a singular verb e.g., anybody, anyone, each, either, neither, every, everybody, everyone, nobody, somebody. (Refer to Canadian Press Stylebook .) </li></ul>Subject-verb agreement cont’d 28
    29. 30. 2. Sentence fragments <ul><li>If your sentence is missing a subject or a verb, it’s a fragment e.g., “The neighbour’s poodle was barking again. Which she couldn’t stand.” </li></ul><ul><li>It’s OK to use sentence fragments once in a while for effect, or for captions and blurbs where a full sentence isn’t needed. </li></ul>29 “ Write incomplete sentences occasionally. Like this. To make an idea easier to absorb. For a change of pace.” - CP Stylebook
    30. 31. 3. Dangling modifiers <ul><li>A modifier is a descriptive word or phrase that limits or quantifies the meanings of other parts of a sentence. </li></ul><ul><li>Dangling modifiers are words or phrases joined to the wrong words in a sentence. </li></ul><ul><li>Dangling modifiers are a serious grammar crime! </li></ul>30
    31. 32. Dangling modifiers cont’d <ul><li>“ Strolling around Toronto’s trendy Yorkville neighbourhood, a pair of suede boots stopped me in my tracks.” </li></ul><ul><li>CORRECT: “As I strolled around Toronto’s trendy Yorkville neighbourhood, a pair of suede boots stopped me in my tracks.” </li></ul>31
    32. 33. <ul><li>“Lush and green, Indiana Jones plunged into the rainforest.” </li></ul><ul><li>CORRECT: “Indiana Jones plunged into the lush, green rainforest.” </li></ul>Dangling modifiers cont’d 32
    33. 34. <ul><li>“Roasted to perfection, my husband doused the ribs with barbecue sauce.” </li></ul><ul><li>CORRECT: </li></ul><ul><li>“My husband doused the ribs, roasted to perfection, with barbecue sauce.” </li></ul><ul><li>JUST DON’T DO IT! </li></ul>Dangling modifiers cont’d 33
    34. 35. 4. Comma splices <ul><li>First, a quick review… </li></ul><ul><li>An independent clause is a group of words that has a subject-verb combination and expresses a complete thought e.g., “Buffy killed the vampire.” </li></ul><ul><li>A coordinating conjunction is a word (e.g., and, but, or, nor) that joins two or more elements of equal rank, e.g., black or white, poor but happy, love and hate. </li></ul>34
    35. 36. Comma splices cont’d <ul><li>A comma splice is the use of a comma to join (“splice”) two independent clauses in a sentence, where the clauses are not connected by a coordinating conjunction. </li></ul>35
    36. 37. Comma splices cont’d <ul><li>“She was my mentor, I learned a lot from her.” </li></ul><ul><li>You can fix this by separating the clauses with a period or a semicolon, or by joining the clauses with a coordinating conjunction. </li></ul>36
    37. 38. <ul><li>WRONG: “She was my mentor, I learned a lot from her.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ She was my mentor. I learned a lot from her.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ She was my mentor; I learned a lot from her.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ She was my mentor, and I learned a lot from her.” </li></ul>Comma splices cont’d 37
    38. 39. <ul><li>It’s OK to use a comma splice… </li></ul><ul><li>when the independent clauses are short, and especially if the subject is the same: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” </li></ul><ul><li>when short independent clauses express contrast: “He wanted a house, she wanted a condo” or “Some like it hot, some like it cold.” </li></ul>Comma splices cont’d 38
    39. 40. 5. Faulty parallelism <ul><li>Keep the structure of phrases and clauses in a series or sentence parallel. </li></ul><ul><li>Once a parallel structure has been started, readers expect it to continue; the sentence feels awkward if it doesn’t. </li></ul>39
    40. 41. Faulty parallelism cont’d <ul><li>6 He put on the dress shirt, tie, the pants and shoes. </li></ul><ul><li>He put on the dress shirt, tie, pants and shoes. </li></ul><ul><li>He put on the dress shirt, the tie, the pants and the shoes. </li></ul>40
    41. 42. <ul><li>Avoid mixing verb forms within one sentence. </li></ul><ul><li>6 I like reading magazines and to write stories too. </li></ul><ul><li>I like reading magazines and writing stories too. </li></ul><ul><li>6 Max stole the car, hit the tree and was escaping on foot. </li></ul><ul><li>Max stole the car, hit the tree and escaped on foot. </li></ul>Faulty parallelism cont’d 41
    42. 43. <ul><li>Be careful when writing lists in sentences. Finish the list before moving on to your next thought. </li></ul><ul><li>She chose carrots, onions, potatoes and paid for them in cash. </li></ul><ul><li>She chose carrots, onions and potatoes, and paid for them in cash. </li></ul>Faulty parallelism cont’d 42
    43. 44. <ul><li>Here’s a more complicated example: </li></ul><ul><li>6 “The employees demanded higher salaries, complained about the lack of day care, but their grievances were ignored by the managers.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ The employees demanded higher salaries and complained about the lack of day care, but their grievances were ignored by the managers.” </li></ul>Faulty parallelism cont’d 43
    44. 45. 6. Vague pronouns <ul><li>Ensure that pronouns such as “this,” “they” and “it” refer to something specific. </li></ul><ul><li>Although the boat hit the dock, it was not damaged. </li></ul><ul><li>They say the housing market is heating up. </li></ul><ul><li>Batman hugged Robin before he left the Batcave. </li></ul>44
    45. 46. It’s your turn! 45
    46. 47. 5-minute fact-checking <ul><li>Assume nothing! Everyone makes mistakes. </li></ul><ul><li>Check proper nouns and book/movie/other titles. </li></ul><ul><li>Check math (calories, money), prices and recipes/directions. </li></ul><ul><li>Check ages, locations, job titles. </li></ul><ul><li>Always check all links!!! </li></ul><ul><li>Make use of Google, IMDB, Amazon, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>If it sounds funny, check it. </li></ul>
    47. 48. Why create a style guide? <ul><li>Establish a house style that reflects your publication’s personality </li></ul><ul><li>Achieve consistency within and between issues </li></ul><ul><li>Give your editors a condensed reference guide </li></ul><ul><li>Resource for your web team, marketing department and freelance editors </li></ul>
    48. 49. Creating an online style guide <ul><li>Heds/subheds: colour, size, capitalization, numerals vs. written numbers </li></ul><ul><li>Style of numbered and bulleted lists </li></ul><ul><li>When to bold, when to italicize </li></ul><ul><li>Do links open in a new window/tab? </li></ul><ul><li>What is different online vs. in print? </li></ul><ul><li>Have a consistent byline style </li></ul>
    49. 50. <ul><li>Each publication has its own style and philosophy. </li></ul><ul><li>You don’t have to write your guide all at once. </li></ul><ul><li>Style guides evolve to fit your needs. </li></ul>“ Language is more fashion than science, and matters of usage, spelling and pronunciation tend to wander around like hemlines.” - Bill Bryson
    50. 51. Mindful editing <ul><li>Race: Is it relevant? Why describe someone as “exotic”? What exactly is “flesh-coloured”? What does “Asian” mean? </li></ul><ul><li>Disability: Avoid patronizing, outdated language e.g., the disabled, wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair, retarded, handicapped, cripple, suffering from, afflicted with, challenged. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s not just about “political correctness.” Inclusive language speaks to more readers. </li></ul>50
    51. 52. Resources
    52. 53. Resources
    53. 54. <ul><li>Q & A </li></ul>Jaclyn Law [email_address] Kat Tancock [email_address]