Cut clichés and save time and patience

When we write, we want to reach readers. It’s not worth the effort if we don’t. So we often use familiar words and phrases that readers will understand. We turn to the images and allusions that we think our readers will identify. Sometimes, though, we choose the easy cliché or the worn metaphor to make our point. Writers need editors to help them see that their prose could use a fresher turn of phrase.

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Copy editors as free agents

A Facebook friend posted a link to a Wall Street Journal story about “organization lovers” and “free agents” at work. The workers who are loyal to their employer and identify strongly with the organization can be upset by bad management decisions. Those who are less emotionally involved can adjust and leave problems at work.

As I read the article, I was reminded that copy editors are often free agents in the workplace. We serve our purpose better when we maintain our outsider edge. We are more likely to question and apply our critical thinking when we feel more kinship with the readers than with the organization or publication we work for.  Also, after the disruption of the Great Recession, we know better than to trust that our loyalty to an employer will be returned.

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Confused words: Quiz on affect and effect

I have written a new Grammar Guide quiz (No. 73) that is all about the often confused words affect and effect. I have posted two versions of the quiz: This one is for regular browsers on laptops or desktops (it uses Flash), and this one is for tablets and smartphones (it uses HTML5). I am still trying to get the kinks worked out in the way this blog displays the list of quizzes over on the right side, so as of this posting date (4-28-14), Quiz No. 73 is only accessible through this post, using my backup plan. I hope someday to hear from the webmaster about how to handle the quiz listing.

Please leave feedback below in the comments or send me email if you find any problems or just want to weigh in on the format or the sentences. (You’ll get a CAPTCHA to prove you’re a real person when you click the email link.)

Have fun with the quiz!


Want to play “Geeks’ Revenge” at ACES 2014?

I’ve come up with a new version of a grammar/usage game that I’ve played with newspaper interns and others over the years. It’s like a quiz show, but it also works as a training exercise. And I am presenting the game at the ACES national conference in Las Vegas. The session is scheduled at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 20. Read more about the sessions here. The game, which I call “Geeks’ Revenge,” will give copy editors a chance to put their knowledge of usage to use. I’ve tested this version of the game with editor friends and it was a hit. I think it’ll be fun for both players and audience members.

The game allows for three teams of two players each, so the spots for players are limited. There will be a sign-up sheet at the conference registration Thursday, and we’ll have a random drawing for the player spots. If you’re coming to the conference and want to be in that drawing, leave a comment below with your name and I’ll add you to the pool. (This is a way of gauging the interest ahead of time.) By the way, the winners and players will get small prizes too.


Advice to an aspiring copy editor

Someone wrote to me recently to ask for advice on becoming a copy editor. I stifled the urge to say, “Don’t do it!” Lots of my fellow copy editors probably have rethought their career choice after the upheaval of the past few years. I felt lucky to find a full-time copy-editing job with an excellent organization after leaving the newspaper business. Many of my colleagues have landed on their feet in one way or another, but some are struggling to find either full-time jobs or freelance work that pays the bills.

On the other hand, I know of copy editors who have succeeded in freelancing, and the need for copy editing has never gone away. New copy editors should be coming into the occupation. We Baby Boomers can’t work forever. (Although sometimes when we look at our retirement savings, we think we might have to work forever.)

Here is an edited and enhanced version of what I told my correspondent, who wondered if she could break into copy editing and proofreading without any experience. I don’t feel especially qualified to advise an aspiring copy editor because my career path is not one that most people can follow today. When I was a young woman, I could go anywhere in the country and find a job. Newspapers don’t offer as many copy editing jobs now. But I took a stab at the advice. I hope my fellow copy editors will weigh in with more wisdom.

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