After 35 years of editing and teaching editing, I can definitely tell you that grammar is important.
But I’m not sure I can say it any better than the National Council of Teachers of English has, so for National Grammar Day 2019, I’ll repeat what they’ve said.
“Why is grammar important?” The National Council of Teachers of English has a good answer:
“Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language. As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children — we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences — that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity,” according to the NCTE.
“People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”
(And I say repeat, because I also shared this on this blog for National Grammar Day 2015.)
I recently wrote an article for the ACES: The Society for Editing website on how to spot red flags in copy so you can most efficiently doing fact checking while editing.
One of the points is that certain things should raise red flags, such as:
- A person’s name and address
- Numbers, including dollar amounts and rankings
- Data and polls, especially data that seems to be cherrypicked; look for the science behind a poll and its completeness
- Inconsistency and repetition
- Out-of-context examples and references
- Information or visuals that don’t ring true or are meant to distract or misrepresent — in other words, something that triggers your “BS detector”
- Biased sources
- Absolutes — look for “the only,” “the best,” “the number one,” “highest,” or “worst” statements.
So when you see one of those red flags, what do you do?
Find that information yourself and see if it checks out. If you are editing something where the author links to information, check out that website and make sure it passes your credibility test. (Does the publisher seem credible? The author? Does the site look professional? Is it up to date? Is there any bias?)
Next find a second source for the same information. Very few things are only available from a primary source. But if you find a primary source (such as a public record), you will have more confidence in its credibility.
And go primary: Look for the original source of any information. Then look at the date of the original and make sure that information hasn’t changed in the interim.
My advice: check and recheck; see it twice before believing.
I teach a class call digital media tools and as part of that I go over basic coding.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not professional coder. I suspect that given a lot of time, I could coding a really cool website. But it would take a long time and there would be a whole lot of bad looks along the way.
But knowing coding isn’t just about being able to build your own website (when you can find easy to follow off the shelve website builders online). If you work in a job that uses any type of content management system, understanding coding will help you find the bugs on the website.
It’s the visual part of a copy editing job — let’s not just fix the misspellings and bad grammar, let’s fix the bad image breaks and lines of text that are too big or too small or too bold..
There are places you can start online. If you are a self-learner, try the W3 School. or Codeacademy.
What I really want to say is get out there and try. It’s a good project for the new year.
I’ve posted this before, but it gets lost among the other items and it’s a good thing to revisit frequently.
Get in the habit of using a checklist when you are editing. This one is geared toward news editing but works for all types of editing.
You may not actually check things off, but reviewing the list before each session of editing will help you remember the big and small things that are most likely to cause errors.
GERRI BERENDZEN’S COPY EDITOR CHECKLIST
- Does the story make sense?
- Are all of the major questions answered?
- Is the story fair? Who or what might be missing?
- Is the background complete enough that all readers will have a sense of relevance?
- Are there any sensitivity issues in either individual word usage or description?
- Do links go to something that is relevant to the story and that answers the questions raised? Are the links from a trusted source of information? Are there any bias issues with the links?
- Are the names correct? Are they spelled the same in every instance? (Check against headlines, cutlines, other display text.)
- Are the ages and dates correct?
- Are the titles correct?— check for people, but also for businesses, institutions, books, works of art, etc.
- Are the locations, addresses correct?
- Did you check the phone numbers against directories or call the numbers?
- DID YOU DO THE MATH?
- Did you check website URLs to make sure they work?
- Did you check the links to make sure they work?
Grammar and spelling
- Did you do a spell check. (1A: Have you checked the spelling of any foreign words.)
- Did you check major grammar points: subject-verb agreement, pronoun use, antecedents, parallel construction?
- Did you check word usage?
- Is the headline accurate and balanced?
- Have you checked the headline, cutlines and display type against the story copy?
I presented two sessions this week at the ACP/CMA 2017 Fall National Media Convention as a representative of the American Copy Editors Society. So, of course, the two sessions were on editing — Editing Your Own Work and Don’t Get Fooled: Spotting Red Flags and Bad Information.
It’s good to spread the word about the value of editing — even if I don’t think it’s a great idea for you to be the only editor of your own work. What is true is that we should all be our own first editor.
And we also should all be skeptical editors, which is what Don’t Get Fooled is about. It especially focuses on fact checking social media and user-generated information.
Here are links to PDFs of the slides for each presentation.
CMA-ACP-EDITING YOUR OWN WORK PDF link
CMA-ACP DON’T GET FOOLED PDF link