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a silent salute: The audience "claps" at Joke Night during Deaf Awareness week. Click Arts&Life for a link to story. / Photo by Leah Lopshire

Today's word on journalism

December 15, 2008

As part of my own personal "war on Christmas" (which a Utah state senator has offered legislation to outlaw), the WORD celebrates the season by going on hiatus until January. May all out days be merry and bright, and here’s to a safe, healthy and saner New Year. HoHoHo!

Empty Minds: "Of all the people expressing their mental vacuity, none has a better excuse for an empty head than the newspaperman: If he pauses to restock his brain, he invites onrushing deadlines to trample him flat. Broadcasting the contents of empty minds is what most of us do most of the time, and nobody more relentlessly than I."

--Russell Baker, Pulitzer-winning columnist

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at


Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

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 or importance.

By Lisa Christensen

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 out!

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 reader.

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 "it is."

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 the information.

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.


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