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Strategies for Effective Editing - 8/24/2010 -

Award-winning editors shared strategies for effective editing—from content planning to grammar and usage—at the recent Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting session, "The Art and Mechanics of Editing.”

By Phaedra Brotherton

Erin Pressley, vice president, editorial, NACS: The Association for Convenience Stores, and Glenn Cook, editor in chief and director of publications, National School Boards Association, discussed a number of common editing challenges. Cook’s advice included being preventing problems by doing a good deal of work upfront, such as having consistent writing and style guidelines in place. As far as content, he said to challenge yourself to think about what’s useful for readers and make time for planning. Developing a good editorial plan can be helpful, not only for quality content, but also for selling advertising, he said. Other tips from Cook: 

·         Educate member authors early. To prevent members from doing unnecessary work that won’t fit the publication, give them word counts and explain the magazine’s style, such as conversational instead of scholarly, well in advance.

·         Pay attention to "so what?” Association publishers should give their readers insight into their industry or profession. Also include "what’s next?” and remember that "context matters.” Even in a how-to article, it doesn’t hurt to tell readers why you are even covering the subject. The important thing is to make your content "resonate.”

·         Be concise and get some distance. Cut redundancies and find ways to compress the language. When editing — after doing all the other things associated with putting out a publication — editors often need to "reboot their brains” and create some distance. Ways to do this include getting away from your desk and moving to a different environment and reading articles out loud to see how things sound. 

·         Be clear with freelancers. Be specific and clear in what you want in the article. Writers should not have to be mind readers.

Pressley also gave several tips on working effectively with writers and developing great content. She talked about how building a stable of freelance writers familiar with her magazine has cut the amount of time she needs to spend upfront in assigning articles. And because the writers know the audience and magazine, they often pitch good article ideas to her. For her magazine, the right tone is critical. Pressley said her audience expects a certain type of humor—even sarcasm. Other tips from Pressley:

·         Share the style guide. To cut down on time spent copyediting, send the organization’s style manual to freelancers and internal staff.

·         View editing as feedback. Look at copyediting as an opportunity to give feedback, talk with contributors about their writing, and remind them about the audience and your style.

·         Develop useful content. Focus on giving information to help make your members’ jobs easier; most associations publish a form of service journalism, so encourage the sharing of best practices, which also helps the industry.

Cook and Pressley also shared a list of editing pet peeves. They advised the audience to watch out for:   

Too much passive voice

Incorrect use of "which,” "that,” and "who”

Misplaced modifiers

Overuse of "ing”

Missing nut graph

Unnecessary use of "that”

Using "stakeholders” instead of naming a specific constituency


Too much capitalization


In the end, while good, consistent editing and useful information are important, Pressley added that it is also key to "aim to provoke and inspire.” Add in tidbits to engage a reader to action, such as visiting the association website or contacting their congressmen. And remember that association editors are competing with other publications, so don’t hesitate to "edit passion and purpose” into your articles.


Phaedra Brotherton (Twitter @phaebro,  Linkedin)  is a freelance editor, writer, and publications manager, as well as principal of PBCommunications. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Annual Meeting session for those members who were unable to attend.



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