13 ways to win a copy editor's
heart -- and look smarter in print
Lisa's Big List O' Most Common Errors
Arranged alphabetically, not in order of offensiveness
November 3, 2008 | Being a copy editor for The
Statesman can be a rewarding experience. Something
about going through a story and finding a missed comma
or a misspelling is just satisfying. The best part is
that few people seem to want the job, so I'm hoping
for relative job stability upon graduation. Unfortunately,
sometimes there are frustrating errors, errors that
just keep popping up in every story from tennis to Tennyson.
Ideally, of course, each writer would be given an AP
Stylebook and be forced to memorize it before taking
another assignment. This does not appear, however, to
be a reasonable demand. In lieu of that, I have devised
a simple 13-item list of the most annoying problems
I routinely find.
1. ADJECTIVES. Use only if someone said them or if
you have to differentiate between similar objects, such
as the blue car vs. the black car. Otherwise, keep them
2. ATTRIBUTION. Please attribute. Attribute everything
short of the Earth being round and USU being the Aggies.
If you think you have over-attributed, do not worry.
We would much prefer taking out excess attributions
as opposed to trying to call you to figure out where
you got something. When identifying students with majors
or professors with titles, avoid using "a." For instance,
this would make it "Jeremy Todd, sophomore in education,"
which explains it with sufficient clarity for the average
3. COMMAS. We understand the workings of the comma
are complex and often confusing. Basically, though,
do not use a comma in a list of things with an "and"
or an "or," such as "Joe bought bread, eggs and milk,"
NOT "Joe bought bread, eggs, and milk."
4. ELLIPSIS. Typically used as the expression that
something has been omitted from a direct quote. Please
note that if you do omit something, be sure to make
sure the original meaning is not lost. It's just easier
not to use them, but if you must, please add a space,
three periods, and another space. If someone trails
off, just put one period and end the quote. Exceptions
to this is only if Godzilla is eating Old Main and the
person trailed off because they were being eaten.
5. ITS/IT'S. Use "its" everywhere except in the case
of a conjunction where "it's" is the replacement for
6. MONTHS. Abbreviate when using with a date, such
as "Oct. 28." Spell out, however, when referring to
just the months, such as "Smith said the organization
will continue their efforts to achieve world peace throughout
September," or when using just the months with years,
like in "January 2009."
7. PARENTHESES. Do not use unless inserting something
into a direct quote, as in "President (John) Cooper
wishes to announce." If you need to explain something
in the story, just use commas.
8. QUOTES. Quotes are fun little nuggets of life within
your story. Choose them wisely. Use them to express
something someone said that you simply cannot paraphrase
any better or more concise. Also, since they are so
fun and lifelike, don't bury them! Let them breathe
the sweet freedom of their own paragraph!
9. SAID. When you attribute, please use the word "said."
Said is a very good word and is doing a fabulous job
on its own. It doesn't need any help from other, similar
words like "exclaimed," "laughed," "explained," or even
"says." The exception to this is when you are referencing
a document or Web site, in which case we'd like you
to use "says" and "according to." People, by the way,
cannot be accorded to. Additionally, when you do use
that wonderful word, please put it after the subject,
like in "Smith said" or "he said." Only put it before
the subject on first reference when the person has a
long title, such as "said Thomas Smith, vice president
of the United Puppy Lovers Association of Utah."
10. SEMICOLONS. My rule of thumb is to avoid them
wherever possible. I seriously doubt anyone has a thorough
knowledge of the intricate workings of the semicolon.
If you are among the elite group who does, please educate
me as I don't understand it entirely myself. If you
are not in this group, try to find a better way to present
11. SPACES. The use of only one space after each sentence
is much preferred to two. We understand that many of
you were taught this way, but it just makes our life
harder to have to go through and take the extra spaces
out before layout.
12. WEB SITE. Two words, capital W, lower-case e-b,
space, s-i-t-e. On a related topic, the Internet is
to be capitalized.
13. YOU. Jay calls this "I trouble." Please, please,
please, please, PLEASE do not, under any circumstances
with the exception of direct quotes and in the event
you have a personal column, use the words "you," "I,"
"we," "our," or any other of that description. As journalists,
it is our job to be as objective as possible. This requires
us to take a step back from everybody else. To use any
of these personal words gives us a feel of familiarity
with the reader, compromising our neutrality. Instead
of "If you want to know more," just say "If students
want to know more," or, best yet, "For more information."
It can be hard, we know. But please just don't.