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The art of editing yourself. (Symposium Secrets to Stronger Editorials).

What's wrong with this sentence: "The editorial writer breezed through the editorial in one draft, turned off the computer, and contemplated life as an overpaid, underworked journalist."

Yep, you're right. Writing is re-writing. It's a miracle--or a complete lack of self-editing--if an editorial is finished in one draft. (You may have spotted other discrepancies in the first sentence, but they're a topic for a different discussion.)

To aid your self-editing, here are seven principles that will help your editorials sing--or at least hum a catchy tune.

1. Overcome the Oatmeal Syndrome. Read your rough drafts from the perspective of someone eating breakfast. Is your writing so tight, the choice of words so compelling, that the reader exclaims, "Holy maple syrup, Martha! Listen to this!" Or is it so boring, the logic so convoluted, that the reader falls asleep face-first in the oatmeal bowl?

Read your editorial aloud. We're all taught to do this. It slows our reading and helps us spot flaws and errors. But in the daily rush, we often cheat, skimming or mumbling our way through the draft.

Don't cheat yourself. Read aloud, looking for holes in logic or construction. Does every paragraph, every sentence, flow from the previous one? Is the editorial overloaded with background and facts? Is it a rant instead of a well-formed opinion backed by facts?

Read aloud again, looking for word problems: missing words, wrong homonyms (their when you mean there), misspellings, grammatical errors, and confusing words. If you stumble over sentences, readers will too.

2. Write defensively. Just as defensive driving avoids accidents, defensive writing helps prevent errors. Pay attention to the littlest details, as well as the big ones. We all need someone to act as the "slot" on the copy desk, giving our editorials one more thorough read. But never give editors and copy editors a reason to muck with your editorials. You want them spotting holes instead of slogging along, fixing commas and correcting spellings. Besides, if they start making many changes, you run the risk of errors being inserted.

Write your own headline. That's a test of the clarity of your argument and the precision of your writing. For published editorials, your suggested headline also will be helpful to whoever writes the final headline.

3. Know your weaknesses. We all have them. Math befuddles many of us. Days and dates confuse some of us. Who/whom, lay/lie, and it's/its bedevil others.

Develop work-arounds. Have math-talented colleagues triple-check your arithmetic. Ask a co-worker to confirm that dates and days are correct. Bookmark trustworthy grammar, usage, math, and other reference sites on the Web. Develop good relationships with local English or math teachers who are happy to answer your questions on deadline.

Keep lists of words, names, and geographic locations that cause you problems. Keep reference books handy, including your stylebook and the dictionary it follows.

Tip: Instead of burning up time sorting through a grammar issue on deadline, rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem.

4. Use spelling checker programs-but never trust them. They only tell you whether you've spelled a word correctly, not whether it's the right word, or the correct form of the word. Grammar programs, such as in Microsoft Word, can be helpful but are fallible as well.

5. Trust your gut. If you have nagging doubts about a phrase or "fact" in an editorial, there's probably a good reason.

6. Make a printout. Take a break, and then give your editorial one last read--on paper. Go through it with pencil in hand, and you'll spot glitches that might have eluded you on the computer screen. (See sidebar.) Make final changes, and double-check them.

7. Be kind to copy editors (and other editors, too). Make deadlines--and make copy editors your allies, so they'll give your work an extra-careful, respectful look. Remember that journalists are like teenagers. We don't like being told what to do. We like praise. And we'll do anything if you buy us pizza.

Maybe ifs because we all think we're over worked and underpaid.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tips for the final read

So your editorial is almost ready. Here's one last step: Print the final version, grab a pencil, and get to work

* Circle every fact. Make sure it's confirmed in your research--and in your notes.

* Circle every name. Make sure it's the right name, the right spelling each time, the right title, with no missing first references. After double-checking each spelling, then--and only then--cq each name.

* Circle every homonym. Make sure it's the right (or write) word.

* Double-check words that commonly are misused. Did you write "anxious" when you meant "eager"? Did you use "insure" when the correct word is "ensure"?

* Cross out unnecessary sentences or superfluous words, such as "future planning."

* Circle every day and date. Check them again.

* Underline every cliche, every bureaucratic term, every "to be" verb, every preposition, every passive sentence, every adjective and adverb. They rob your writing of power. Put a twist on the cliche instead of settling for a tired phrase. Rewrite sentences in the active voice. Recast sentences that have more than five prepositions and infinitives. Strive for specific action verbs instead of "to be" verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

* Read with a dirty mind, so you can fix unfortunate sentence constructions (or spelling errors) before they appear in print.

* Look for words whose opposite meanings can create confusion. For example, "sanction" can mean both "approval" and "punishment."

* After typing phone numbers and Web addresses, call the numbers or paste the Web addresses into your browser to ensure they're correct. Then cq them.

* Double-check the wording and information in any graphic or cutline that goes with your editorial.

* Create a desktop checklist of these steps and force yourself to mentally check off each one before calling your editorial finished.

* Make a printout to take home. You probably will never look at it. But it's good insurance in case a question of accuracy comes to mind before the presses roll or the editorial airs.

Dick Hughes is editorial page editor of the Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon. E-mail
COPYRIGHT 2003 National Conference of Editorial Writers
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Article Details
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Author:Hughes, Dick
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
Previous Article:Good writing needs cadence. (Symposium Secrets to Stronger Editorials).
Next Article:Battling for integrity. (NCEW vs. Planted Opinions).

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