Write Tight: Grammar and copy editing

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  • WRITE

    Logan Aimone, MJE // University High School, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Sources: JEA, Karl Grubaugh,

    TIGHT!Copy editing and

    grammar essentials

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    How long have you been an editor?

    Whats your biggest peeve?

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    Cut the clutter!

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    The worst writing out there the language of corporate speak, government reports and PR releases is slipping into newspapers, magazines and other journalistic publications. Its our job to remove it, to give EVERY WORD a purpose.

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    Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. William Strunk Jr.

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    RULE OF THUMB: ONE IDEA PER SENTENCE This is a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule.

    For example: The American flag is red. It is also white. It is also blue. This follows the One Idea rule, but its also really stupid.

    But, using common sense as a guide, sentences should generally contain one idea.

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    AN EXAMPLE OF CLUTTER But it took a four-yard scoring strike from Sipe to tight

    end Oscar Roan with 1:11 left in the second period to match an 11-yard scoring spurt by Cincinnati rookie fullback Pete Johnson midway through the first period, which completed a 75-yard march in six plays, aided by three offside calls against the Browns.

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    CUTTING IT OUTAre all these words necessary? Can the story be told as well, or better, without some of them? the Hurricanes own a 5-2 advantage in their series with TCU. and he put the blame squarely on Carters shoulders. over a period of years. registered his objections The Middies have a 4-3 record so far this season. in the vicinity of got on the scoreboard Did not pay attention to

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    Remove the redundancy!

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    RULE OF THUMB: ONE IDEA PER SENTENCE Future draft choices (arent they all in the future?) A trade in exchange for someone (a trade IS an exchange) A trade for a player to be named later (When else?) He expressed a desire to be traded to another team. (not his

    own?) A three-goal hat trick. A perfect 300 game; A perfect 10 Going back home Totally exhausted and completely destroyed Old adage

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    MORE REDUNDANCYAwkward predicament, broad daylight, chief protagonist, died suddenly, exact counterpart, future prospect, gainfully employed, have got, invited guest, just recently, lonely isolation, may possibly, necessary requisite, old veterans, passing phase, quite empty, root cause, smile on his face, temporary reprieve, uncommonly strange, violent explosion, watchful eye.

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    Use the right word usually the

    simplest.

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    MISUSED WORDS AND CONCEPTS Synonym madness: Synonyms for the sake of synonyms

    for example, said (a perfectly lovely word)

    Telegraphing quotes: Hes as surprised as anyone that sales are so brisk. It really surprises me that sales are so brisk, he said.

    Inappropriate dependent clauses: The San Francisco 49ers signed quarterback Trent Dilfer to a three-year deal Friday. The 34-year-old Dilfer Either make Dilfers age part of a separate declarative sentence, or do it this way: Dilfer, 34,

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    OTHER MISUSES Sense verbs (think, feel, hope believe): We only know

    what someone says he or she thinks, feels, hopes and believes

    Prior to

    Anxious/eager

    Nouns used as verbs; adjectives contorted into nouns

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    Put the powerin the verb.

    Avoid adverbs.

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    DONT OVERUSE ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS Stories should be written with nouns and verbs. The

    function of adjectives and adverbs should be to modify and qualify. Use them to change the meaning of a noun or verb.

    Adjectives are the crutch of the insecure writer

    A good story needs very few

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    ADJECTIVE EXAMPLES WRONG: A radio blared loudly.

    BETTER: A radio blared.

    WRONG: A man clenched his teeth tightly grinned widely moped dejectedly.

    AVOID little qualifiers like too, very, quite, rather, sort-of, a little, pretty much

    AVOID many students how many is many?

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    Take a look at this example:

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    The morning woods were utterly new. A strong yellow light came between the trees; I saw my shadow, and then I didnt The snakes were out I saw a bright, smashed one on the path and the butterflies were flying all around

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    Verbs:were came saw

    were saw were flying

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    The real version: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by Annie Dillard

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    The morning woods were utterly new. A strong yellow light pooled between the trees; my shadow appeared and vanished on the path The snakes meandered I saw a bright, smashed one on the path and the butterflies were vaulting and furling about

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    Dillard uses1 helping verb No verbs are repeated Unusual and simple verbs

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    Actual verbs:were pooled appeared vanished

    meandered vaulting furling

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    Avoid -ing tense.

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    TIGHTEN THE VERB Bad: will be sponsoring

    Good: will sponsor

    Bad: proceeded to goGood: went

    Bad: in order to gain approval Good: to gain approval

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    Read for story, not just grammar

    or other mechanics

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    MOVE THINGS AROUND Sometimes, you just need to move a few words around:

    A Geneva man, apparently frustrated over a compensation claim, surrendered to authorities at federal offices in New York yesterday after threatening to kill himself for more than 2 hours with a flare launcher.

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    MOVE THINGS AROUND Sometimes, you need to change the emphasis of a

    sentence:

    Donald T. Regan, the secretary of the treasury, told Congress yesterday that it was not probable that President Reagan would be able to keep his pledge to balance the federal budget in 1984.

    President Reagan probably wont keep his pledge to balance the budget in 1984, Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan told Congress yesterday.

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    Serve the reader by paraphrasing long-winded and

    wordy quotes.

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    PARAPHRASE If you can write it better, clearer, more concisely than

    the source said it, do so.

    Keep the sources own words for those portions of the interview where the source adds color or perspective.

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    THE LAST WORD Sometimes, its appropriate to let a source have the last

    word. Often, a good quote is a far better way to end a story than an attempt at humor or a bow-wrapping summary statement by a reporter. The strong quote offers a far more lasting impression.

    We call this a walk off quote. Tuck the attribution in the middle, so the story ends with the sources words, not she said.

    Sometimes we call this a mic drop

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    Avoid ellipses and [brackets]

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    Use active voice. Passive voice should not be used by you.

  • Active voiceA sentence has a verb in the active voice when the subject performs the action.

    The catcher caught the ball.

  • Passive voiceA sentence has a verb in the active voice when the action is performed on the subject.

    The ball was caught by the catcher.

  • Passive voiceThe passive voice is formed by using the past participle of the verb with a form of the helping verb be.

    The ball is caught by the catcher. The ball was caught by the catcher. The ball will be caught by the catcher.

  • Passive voiceIn passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. The subject is acted upon. The agent performing the action may appear in a by the phrase, or the agent may be omitted.

  • Passive voiceRed = action Green = subject

    The boy was bitten by the dog.

    The movie will be directed by Joss Whedon.

  • How to change passive to activeRed = action Green = subject

    The boy was bitten by the dog.

    (Ask yourself, who is doing what?)

    The dog bit the boy.

  • How to change passive to activeRed = action Green = subject

    The movie will be directed by Joss Whedon.

    Joss Whedon will direct the movie.

  • So which do I use?Active voice is more interesting, more direct and makes for livelier writing.

  • Reasons to use active voiceActive voice is shorter and more direct.

    Active: The waiter dropped the tray of food.

    Passive: The tray of food was dropped by the waiter.

  • Reasons to use active voiceActive voice is less awkward and clearly states the relationship between subject and action. Passive: Your request for funding has been denied by the review committee. Active: The review committee denied your request for funding.

  • Reasons to use active voicePassive: Your bicycle has been damaged. (by whom?) Active: Jonathan damaged your bicycle.

  • Reasons to use active voiceActive voice propels the reader forward through your writing. Passive: The brakes we