With the demise of copy editing at so many small and medium sized newspapers, magazines and even TV news stations; journalists need to be able to edit their own copy. But before we delve into a grammar Nazi’s no man’s land of stylistic errors and misplaced modifiers, lets establish that most journalists are not English majors and did not get into the writing gig because of their love of grammar.
Second, remember that nobody is perfect. You will make mistakes in your copy. Correct your errors, especially on the Internet and learn from your typos. But strive to create perfect copy, even though you know mistakes will happen.
So, how do you teach a student how to edit themselves?
1) Spell Check. So many errors can be prevented if students would just run spell check. It is so easy to do, yet so few ever do it.
2) Learn the most common misused and confused list. Know the difference between it’s and its, there and they’re and their, and to, two and too.
3) Write in simple subject, verb, direct object style most of the time. This keeps your sentences simple and punctuation to a minimum.
4) Learn the basics of subject and verb agreement as well as how to deal with plural and singular.
5) Practice punctuating dialog. Read as many fiction and biography books as you can that contain dialog. Learn from the masters on how to deal with tricky colloquialisms, slang and partial sentences that spill forth from most sources mouths.
6) Learn AP Style. Read the sections dealing with abbreviations, dates, times, addresses and titles.
7) Stop texting. Texting breeds bad habits that are hard to break later.
Most students do not check their own writing before submitting it to be published. They need to practice looking for mistakes in their own writing since most professional journalists of the future will not have multi-layered editing to fall back on.
Thanks to Thou Shall Blog for the inspiration for this post.