Proofreading still operates with paper in many circumstances, which is why it is worth knowing about standard proofreading marks, says Humphrey Evans.

Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-be Travel WritersProduct Details

Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:.
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors

In addition, if you're setting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, take a look at: 
Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub  



Other titles on offer include:
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers.
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences 

 



Proof correction marks link together that community of people within the publishing industry who know that paper lives. This arcane symbolic language, codified by the British Standards Institution, provides communication for those who choose to monitor progress through paper rather than rely solely on computers.

 



At Sidgwick & Jackson, for instance, senior editor Ingrid Connell says that, although they usually copy edit on screen, page proofs will come back on paper to be read by authors and freelance proof readers and revised page proofs will stay as paper until everything is correct. There is a reason: "With computers, if you get a glitch somewhere, if you get something slightly odd going wrong, you can't tell where it is if you don't have a paper trail."


Penguin Press has a similar approach. Managing editor Mark Handsley says that the great majority of their books will be proofed on paper at some point. "Proof reading on paper is much easier than reading on screen. Most of our proofreading is done out of house by freelance proofreaders. If we can send off a packet of proofs we don't have to worry about what computer system they might have."


Once you have paper and you start making corrections, the value of having standard marks to do it with soon becomes clear. "We use them all the time," says Suzi Beddoes, an editor at Oxford University Press handling international primary school books. "We send stuff to typesetters and printers all over the world. They all have to understand, whatever language they speak. It seems to work."


Proofreading, like printing itself, has always had this international aspect. The first manual of proofreading appeared in Leipzig in 1608, although the first reference to the activity of checking proofs appears in a preface written by William Caxton. 


That manual, Orthotypographia, was compiled by Jerome Hornschurch, who was supporting himself through his medical studies by working as a corrector of the press. He sets out the necessary qualities: "The corrector must be no ordinary man; he must have a quick eye for detail; he must be sober." He shares his despondencies: "Every day I had to struggle not so much with printers' errors, as with incorrect and revolting copy." He gives detailed advice, such as checking that similar letters, say e and c, have not been interchanged. And, in two sample pages, he shows the actual marks he has been using.


Here, already, is a caret, an inverted v, to show an insertion, an underlining for italic, a squiggle for deletion, a slash to show the end of a correction where one letter replaces another, a full stop picked out with a ring around it. He wouldn't seem out of place handling proofs at any typesetters today.


Move to London in 1683 where unlicensed master printer Joseph Moxon, in his Mechanick Exercises, records these same symbols, adding in a few extra such as square brackets pointing left and right to show where text should be moved nearer to or further from the margins. Move on to Paris in 1825 where Henri Fournier, in Traité de la Typographie, has three underlinings to show capital letters. 


Yet even as these basic symbols seemed to be spreading and building into a system, national differences, too, were creeping in. The squiggles people made to delete something, for instance, differed quite noticeably from country to country. This didn't matter too much, but what did cause problems was the bits of written language being used. 


English speaking proofreaders would happily write "ital" in the margin to change something to italic. You can still see this system at work in places like newspaper offices where proofs never go out of the building and journalists have picked up what they do by osmosis from a previous generation. Unfortunately ital doesn't mean very much if proofs find their way back to a Czech typesetter or a Malaysian printer, as happens in the book trade.


Internationalisation pushed British publishers into seeking something that could potentially be understood anywhere and this, in turn, led the BSI to produce, in 1976 and then revised in 2005, a set of marks, contained in BS5261, that replaced words with symbols. This is the system that uses a marginal symbol like an E on its back, although without its middle stroke, sloping over to show you want italic, and a similar symbol slashed through to take you back to roman. If you have been taught proofreading, this is the set of marks you will have learnt.


Publishers Kogan Page are typical. Copy editing is done on disk but proofs come in on paper. Group Publishing Manager Louise Cameron says they absolutely rely on the standard symbols. "We use them in house to communicate with each other because they're so much quicker. We set a test to prospective freelance proofreaders to make sure they know how to use them in the proper place and intelligently. The typesetters recognise them - if they didn't, I wouldn't be using them."


Swift and sure communication provides the justification for making certain that people use the proper symbols. Lesley Ward, who is involved with training proofreaders through the Publishing Training Centre, the London College of Printing and the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders, points out that the system itself is extremely logical and that a body of good practice has developed on how to use it.


"I meet people all over the place who aren't using the system," she says. "They waste a lot of time and cause confusion with printers because they end up filling the margin with explanations. The principle of symbols is sound - you don't have to explain things in words."


But Lesley Ward is a more significant figure than just a teacher of proofreading. She has been Britain's representative on the bodies trying to bring about international agreement on a system of marks, flying off to meetings in places like Berlin and Baltimore and putting forward suggestions for exactly which symbols should be adopted in a full international set.


BS5261 with its 60 plus marks was developed with the specific aim that it could form the basis for an international system. Unfortunately the actual international standard issued in 1983, ISO 5776, listed only 16. When Belgium suggested that this could be adopted as the European norm, other Euro nations demurred. It just isn't extensive enough to do what it has to do. Although this leaves an international limbo, printers round the world seem willing to respond in practice to the marks actually being used.


Perhaps the one thing everyone can agree on is how easily a lackadaisical approach to proofs can run away with money. Back to Louise Cameron: "Correction costs are high. In 15 years in publishing, I've never not been in a position where we haven't been worried about changes at proof stage." Self-discipline by all concerned seems to be the only antidote, although the colour coding allowed for in the system does distinguish between typesetters' mistakes (red), editorial slips (black or blue) and changes requested by the author (some other agreed colour). That way at least the typesetter can itemise who should pay for what on the invoice.

 



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Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.



All material on this website is 
copyright © Humphrey Evans. 


Learn to play the name game

People lose faith in publications that spell names wrong, so journalists have to get them right. Explore the essential art of name dropping, says Humphrey Evans.  



Brahms had one of his greatest hits with the Hungarian Dances he arranged for four hands on the piano. On my recording of these jolly and haunting pieces the 20 fingers involved (actually it sounds more like 40) belong, according to the sleeve notes, to Walter and Beatriz Klien. Klien? I had a friend named Henry Klein, so that's how I expect Klein to be spelt, which means I would always be liable to error when writing anything referring to the Kliens unless I'd registered, as every journalist eventually does, that names signify danger.



Vogue had to endure a whole month sharply aware that the cover line displayed on every newsagent's rack touting an interview with actress Keira Knightley spelt her name wrong. The Guardian twisted itself into ecstasies of remorse after a half-page obituary of a Cambridge academic slid into calling him by the wrong name about half way through.



So check names endlessly. Check them against references. And check them again for consistency as they run through an article. Above all, don't let the spell checker anywhere near them. In the early days of word processors, did we not all amuse ourselves by noticing that Denis Thatcher was liable to turn into Penis Thatcher unless carefully monitored? I once saw Anthony Minghella morph into Anthony Mingle almost in front of my own eyes. The New York Times now exhorts its journalists to switch off that auto correct facility after some fairly strange shifts showed up in the printed versions of names that were known to have been correct at earlier stages.



At the same time, take pleasure in knowing about names.



For example, there is a successful novelist out there called Geoffrey Archer who writes the kind of books you find on airport bookstalls. He is not Jeffrey Archer. There are two of them, if you see what I mean, and every journalist aware of this avoids the possibility of turning one into the other.



Or, for real pernicketiness, register that Tracey Emin once produced a piece that is always referred to as Psycho Slut, an embroidered quilt-like hanging. The words that give the work its name have been carefully appliqued across the top third of the piece in capital letters perhaps three inches high. They say PYSCO SLUT. Shouldn't that be what we call it?

 



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Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 

London: 14 RandomObservationsProduct Details



 

And if you want to use a photograph taken with a subeditor's sensibilities, go to www.alamy.com and put prettygoodpics into the search box. This blue plaque appears outside 44 Grove End Road, just around the corner from the Abbey Road studios where the Beatles recorded. Put in BFMGDB.

 



Give us the facts

Judgement tells you that some things need a double check before going out to the readers. Humphrey Evans suggests what to look for.

 



Readers want facts, facts they can rely on, facts dug up by reporters and writers, validated by editors and checked by, well, fact checkers. Except we don't have fact checkers this side of the Atlantic: we have subs.



So, subs have to decide what looks like a fact and what needs checking.



You can start off by assessing how much you trust the writer. If he or she sits at a desk three along from yours and can be heard every hour of the day and night ringing up people to go over the story one more time, you can be fairly sure your job is to mentally tick off the paragraphs as you read through them. Basically, you're looking for the kind of thing that can go awry by accident.



Internal consistency provides a good test. I once realised that three noughts had dropped off a financial forecast because the surrounding figures suggested it had to be a lot higher than it looked.



Something else to pay attention to is anything you think a reader might actually count on doing something with. Contact telephone numbers, for example, are well worth ringing at proof stage as a final check that they do what they should - whether it's hotel reservations, charity donations or, as I once faced, a list of 60 offshore-UK banking facilities for the financially fleet of foot.



One of the more off-the-wall car magazines - think lowered rooflines and wet tee-shirts - once garbled the contact number on a technical article. A real-life little old lady in Lincolnshire ended up fielding calls about tuned exhaust systems although, luckily for them, she seems to have regarded it as part of life's rich pattern.



At the other extreme are writers you just want to shake. One shopping correspondent presented me with a piece on up-market mail order catalogues. From her point of view she'd done a wonderful job of turning them up and enthusing away - and I must admit I liked the alpaca coat at £900.



However, the contact details were another matter. The give-away that nothing could be counted on was a reference to Kennington Lane, London SW7. SW7 is South Kensington, not Kennington. Beautiful thoughts are one thing; addresses are quite another.

 



n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:.
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors



In addition, take a look at: 

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub  



Other titles on offer include:
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers 

Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels

Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays

Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts

Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences

London: 14 Random Observations


Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details



Let us now praise David Crystal

Subeditors need to be able to talk about grammar. And David Crystal is the man to tell you how to do it, says Humphrey Evans.

 



Good writers can get away with knowing virtually nothing about grammar in any formal sense. They just do what they do. Subeditors, however, spend their time fiddling around with other people's writing - the good, the bad and the downright ugly - and ought to be able to explain what it is they are up to.



Take agreement or concord, for instance. This makes a verb singular or plural depending on its subject, or matches a pronoun to the noun it is replacing. Writers or reporters make slips when working at speed. Subeditors pick them up. But justifying the changes, if someone queries them, requires words like verb, noun, pronoun, subject.



If you want a reminder of how these things work or need to find out about them in the first place, the book to turn to is David Crystal's Rediscover Grammar. David Crystal has spent most of his life studying linguistics, but added in some practical experience with a stint as a freelance writer. What he does is take all the stuff that you do automatically when you're speaking, teases it apart and gives names to it so that when you want to describe what it is you are doing to a piece of writing you have the words to do it with. If you're going to have an attitude towards split infinitives, for instance, you need to know what one looks like.



Rediscover Grammar takes you so far. In order to go further into the ways that words and grammar flow together to provide meaning, David Crystal has recently added a companion, Making Sense of Grammar. This begins to impact on style, commenting on constructions that let you pack information into written copy succinctly and effectively.



As background to this emphasis on grammar, there are all sorts of other David Crystal productions that might add perspectives to the daily word bashing. His latest book is How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning and Languages Live or Die. Before that came The Stories of English and Words, Words, Words. And behind them all lies The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.



You can't quite say that every work in the oeuvre is a subeditor's must, but you can certainly click your way to Amazon and see what attracts.

 



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Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


 

 



The look of the thing

When you've got a lot of carefully gathered material to display, you want to make sure you give it the right visual impact. Humphrey Evans seeks out sources of advice.

 



Subs
who deal with information set out in tables or graphs or diagrams know how much effort goes into producing them. To make best use of that effort, you need to have some awareness of what makes for good presentation.



A good place to start is with a book by Edward Tufte, an American academic who has made a speciality of statistical graphics, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Aficionados (the Tufte club?) regard it as an underground classic, but underground only in the sense that it is self-published. The guidance more than stands up to the light of day.



With material to be slotted into a table, for example, it suggests that any grid lines should be printed in a lighter tone or, better yet, dispensed with altogether to prevent distraction from the information itself.



A further two books, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations, push out the coverage of what Tufte calls information design. And he invites comments and interaction at his website www.edwardtufte.com.



Suggestions for ways of presenting graphs and charts flood the pages of Jan White's Graphic Idea (correct) Notebook. He even has notions for making pie charts look good, although Tufte will tell you these are just about the greatest waste of ink and space going.



Subs who are moving over into layout can look to another of Jan White's books, Designing for Magazines, which suggests lots of ways of manipulating columns in space for maximum effect.



A further book, Contemporary Newspaper Design by Mario Garcia, has plenty of detailed advice, pointing out, for example, the best positions for a head shot photo in a multi-column story - and the places to avoid at all costs.



Both these books date from the 1980s and obviously originate from the United States. For something more recent, and drawing on British examples, you can turn to Designing for Newspapers and Magazines by the NUJ's Chris Frost.



Any or all of these books will make you very conscious of matters such as providing entry points for getting readers started on a page. You'll end up realising that good design grapples with the proper concerns of the reader.

 



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Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.
 

 



Here's the way to do it

Style guides help publications handle the trickier bits of language use and presentation. Humphrey Evans explains what to look for.


In the launch issue of Journalism Practice, one of those journals given over to the study of journalism, a Spanish academic devoted 20 pages to an analysis of the style guides of three Spanish newspapers.



Actually, analysis may not be the right word as he spent most of the space lambasting what he saw as the guides' inadequate take on the nature of journalistic truth.



Perhaps some editorial offices do spend hours debating whether truth reflects an underlying reality or just the widest possible intersubjective agreement. Most, however, want a style guide that records how their publication presents the name Gadafi. Or is that Gadafy or Khaddafi or Qathafi or Qadhdhafi?



None of these is right in any absolute sense; all represent the compromises involved in romanising Arabic. What a publication needs is the consistency that comes from saying that this is the way we do it.



Dates, figures, currency units and measurements of all kinds need pinning down. Can you say offhand, for instance, whether your publication would report a wage rise as 3% or 3 per cent?



Style guides, to my mind, work best when presented as a pared-down list of dictionary-style entries. They record the decisions that have been made, rather than the arguments that went into making them. Advice about writing and reporting - which is what gave rise to the stuff about journalistic truth - belongs in training manuals and the like.



A pared-down list has another advantage - it prints out conveniently. The style guide at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, for instance, takes up just two pages of A4, presented in 8pt Gill Sans across four columns, which makes it eminently easy to consult.



It has some classic entries, too:

famous AVOID. If he/she is famous why waste words stating the obvious?
gymslip mums These poor unfortunates belong in the Daily Mirror of the 1950s, not today's Chronicle.



Any journalist should be aware of their publication's style guide but subs need to get used to looking at it repeatedly. As one chief sub said to me: "I don't want to deal with questions when the answers are in the style guide."

 



n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting
and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 




All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



London: 14 RandomObservations Product Details

 



10 tips for easier subbing

When working under pressure, it helps to be able to do things on autopilot. You should give yourself as many small rules of thumb as you can to save having to think through every task from scratch, says Humphrey Evans.

 



Drum common mistakes into your head. Manhattan doesn't have an 'e' in the final syllable, no matter how often writers write it that way.



Do almost anything to stop travel articles, and other personal pieces, starting with the word I - at this point the writer has not yet made themselves interesting to the reader.



If you realise you have used the word "not" in a standfirst, force yourself to rewrite into a grammatically positive formulation as the meaning will become easier for readers to understand.



Keep adding bits to the style guide, whether a name you have checked - and there really are people called Fysh - or a minor dissertation on the use of the semi-colon.



Every picture should have a caption. Ease the mental burden with a two-part rubric: tell the readers what they are looking at and explain why it is significant.



If you're unsure about whether to put in a comma, leave it out. But go the other way with the word that - putting it in tends to help readers get the sense.



When writing headlines, keep muttering away to yourself. It gives your brain another way of latching on to striking phrases. And talk to other people too, even if they are hidden away behind vast monitors.



Note down the telephone number of the nearest big reference library. A copy of the Business Phone Book for London actually on the subs desk provides a pretty good reference source, too.



If you come across one of those really problematical words - such as uninterested or disinterested - expand the sentence to spell out the meaning. If writers and even subs have difficulties with them, how can you rely on readers perceiving the vital distinction?



And if a writer announces three or four upcoming points, or an article or a box promises 10 Tips, check that that is the number that actually appears.

 



n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting
and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:.
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


In addition, take a look at: 

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub  



Other titles on offer include:
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers.
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays 
Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences

 

 



Not never no more

Accentuate the positive. Or at least make sure you avoid grammatical constructions using the word not. Remember, you can always say no to not, says Humphrey Evans.

 




Subs
need to keep an eye out for nots because negatives give readers problems. Psychologists can actually measure the delay in properly comprehending a sentence with the word not in it, while some people skate so lightly over the surface of the text that they don't even seem to register its presence, taking away exactly the wrong impression.



Politicians, and politically-oriented writers, are inclined to pile not upon not. Negative constructions are easy to produce at speed and under pressure: it's the reader who has to put in the mental effort. If the stuff is quoted verbatim, there's nothing you can do, but in ordinary prose you should be able to find a solution.



You can take a phrase such as "Not even the Army can escape from health and safety requirements" and change it to something like "Even the Army has to take into account health and safety requirements". You can realise that a construction such as "Not only this, but also that" can almost always turn into "Both this and that". Readers will feel the benefit.



I once went through a 600-word editorial for the first issue of a politically-oriented magazine reconstructing any sentence featuring a not or a never or some equivalent, a matter of about 90 per cent of the total. For days I lived in fear of what the (very eminent) writers who had produced it were going to say when they saw it printed. But the editor was gushing in her gratitude after the launch party. Apparently someone had congratulated her on the editorial, saying it was the first one in such a publication that he had actually understood.



Whatever you do, keep nots out of standfirsts and other attention-grabbing items. A standfirst from a cycling campaign's magazine has seared itself on my memory: "Not for nothing has every glossy cycle magazine run a theft feature this year." Now read on? I think not.



It even affects proofreading, where the problem is that the nots go missing. Frederick Forsyth had problems with The Guardian which inflicted on him the misquotation "Judge not that you be judged."



Actually there are some very valuable early bibles around, known as the Wicked Bibles, where the word not is left out of the seventh commandment, the one about adultery. The printer was fined £300 and ruined. The theory these days is that a rival printer bribed a typesetter to do the damage in the hope of taking over the lucrative bible-printing licence.



Nots are not to be sniffed at.

 



n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting
and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:.
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


In addition, take a look at: 

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub  


Other titles on offer include:
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers.
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences


Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

 



Keep those pull quotes pulling

Make sure any pull quotes you display do the job you intend of pulling the readers in by attracting their attention without misleading them, says Humphrey Evans.

 



Bang in the middle of that short period of Sarah Palin mania - you remember, pitbulls / hockey moms / lipstick / pigs / more lipstick - the Sunday Times ran a piece by US academic and controversialist Camille Paglia arguing that Palin represented the acme of feminism aimed, as it is, at equal rights and equal opportunity.



What caught my attention was the pull quote: "Palin has rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy feminist establishment".



Pro-sex? Pro-babies, certainly. Pro-life. Pro-moose-hunting. Pro-shooting. But pro-sex?



When I went looking in the article itself, what I found was this: "Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channelled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering philistine feminist establishment."



Madonna, it turned out, was Paglia's intended pro-sex exemplar, not Palin at all.



What we are looking at here is someone hacking away at a potential pull quote to make it fit a single-column, seven-line template - always a temptation when faced with such a typically tight constraint - and getting it wrong.



Even worse is the temptation to re-write the pull quote to make it sharper. Here is one from Tackle & Guns, "Britain's only monthly shooting and fishing trade publication": "Inside the cold store I can feel the moisture in my eyes and mouth start to freeze." And here is what appears in the text: "The air inside the store is so cold that I can feel the moisture in the corner of my mouth and eyes start to freeze."



What makes this problematical is that the keen reader, pulled in by the pull quote, finds a different version in the text, yet each purports to be a first person account.



If you are going to give way to the temptation to rewrite a pull quote to make it snappier, you could at least have the courtesy to go back into the text of the article and change it to match.



I'd suggest, however, that you will do altogether better to stick with the discipline of using the words the writer wrote. At least you can guarantee you're not going to confuse Sarah Palin with Madonna.

 



n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting
and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


 

 



Proofread for perfection

Double up your chances of spotting errors while checking proofs by following the rule that says two is better than one at every stage in the process, says Humphrey Evans.

 



Remember that when proofreading, you are always checking one stage against what was asked for at a previous stages. So, when proofreading, you should always have two things to compare - the print out or screen you are presently working on and a record of previous stages with any corrections, instructions and so on.



A page of readers' letters on screen should be checked against the originals, for instance (even it they are in green ink and capitals) as it is easy for whoever input it to slip up and miss out a word like "not" or change it to "now", altering the meaning completely. Prices should be checked back with whoever is setting them. Ring telephone numbers to make sure there isn't a proverbial little old lady on the other end of the line.



Read two versions. If you proofread something on screen, try to have it printed out as well - errors will stand out on paper even though you've glided over them on screen.


Read one version two times. Read something through at your natural proofreading speed. Put it to one side for a bit, then look through it again and, surprisingly often, you will spot something else.



Have two people read one version. You probably spot nine errors out of every ten. So does everybody. Have someone else look at a proof and their nine out of ten will overlap with yours. Never let yourself believe that you can spot all the errors.



Be in two minds. One part of your mind concentrates on the task. The other organises it. Have you checked the headlines? Any page furniture such as the issue date? The flow through from any previous computer stage?



Do you know what level of corrections to make? Some publications effectively use the early page proofs for copyediting or subediting, so expect to see a lot of changes at that point. At later stages, when the cost of changes becomes prohibitive, the same publications will expect you to judge whether errors you spot really need to be corrected: a significant mis-spelt name they'll need to correct; but that misplaced comma is quite likely to stay where it is. Ask yourself whether you'd spend £25 of your own money to move it.

 



n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:.
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


In addition, take a look at: 

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub  



Other titles on offer include:
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers.
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays

 



When words go wrong

Sometimes the words as written take on a meaning far from what was intended. Humphrey Evans considers what to watch out for.

 



Words work some of their magic by sliding away from their original context, by extending their meaning from the concrete to the abstract, by heading off for the worlds of euphemism, metaphor, metonymy and the like. Writers can enjoy the liveliness and variety this brings, but subs need to look for those moments when the original meaning rears up and bites back.



A newspaper profile recorded, for example, that the actor Woody Harrelson once claimed that, as an emerging star on the hit comedy series Cheers, he picked up and slept with three women a day.



Slept with? Somehow the unlikely notion of multiple episodes of shared slumber breaks through the surface message to disrupt the intended meaning. This doesn't seem to be an actual quote - we aren't being told precisely what words Woody Harrelson used - so it's open to change. Make love sounds somewhat too optimistically romantic for the circumstances, get jiggy-jiggy over demotic. Have sex would seem about right.



A headline that stated "RSPCA dogged by attempted infiltration" would have been fine for virtually any other organisation. RSPCA just happens to bring to mind real dogs and the way they go about their activities, doggedly, of course, which means a word like threatened might do better.



Another headline reporting developments in a round-the-world yacht race, "Broken mast sinks leader's hopes", forgot that "sinks" might be interpreted as referring to the yacht itself. "Wrecks" looks equally problematic. "Dashes" would make a good alternative.



A local paper that ran the headline "School dinners given chop" hadn't considered literal-minded people like me wondering whether that would be a lamb chop or a pork chop. They could at least have shifted to the equally headlinese word "axe".

 

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


 



When words go awry

Watch out for writers using words where the meaning slips beyond their control, says Humphrey Evans.

 



At the height of that summertime near-perfect financial storm, one of the Sunday paper political commentators inflicted on his readers this paragraph:



"Brown's position has been strengthened, temporarily, by two factors that he might once have described as endogenous (as in 'post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory') in that they come from outside the system over which he has control."



Fair enough. Except for the ghastly fact that endogenous means inside, precisely the opposite of the outside touted here. Let alone the immediate inconsistency, this rather suggests our respected commentator hasn't quite got to grips with the ins and outs of political vocabulary.



And it further suggests a subeditor asleep at the wheel - or at least lulled into accepting that the writer knows what he is doing.



Writers will use words that they don't fully comprehend - it's one of the ways that words change their meanings - and subeditors need to be more than aware of how problematic some problematical words can be.



Here's another political tit-bit, as printed: "Iain Duncan Smith's nemesis, Vanessa Gearson, the woman behind Betsygate, has failed to be selected as the party's candidate in Bournemouth West. IDS, who inferred he would quit the party if Gearson made it to the Commons, can relax."



Inferred? The word that has gone walkabout is implied. Writers are always mixing the two up, as they mix up flout and flaunt, uninterested and disinterested.



My suggestion is that subeditors should just ban these discombobulating couplets. If writers can't deploy them correctly, how can you have any idea of what the readers are making of them? A better bet with that IDS snippet would have had him "suggesting" he would quit the party.



Subeditors, moreover, need to keep an eye on their own vocabulary. I once wrote an article listing some interesting books about English usage. The subeditor added a line - a practice I'm quite happy about - to bring it to length. Unfortunately, he, or she, saddled me with saying that what I really enjoyed about The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language was "being able to read some of its more obtuse entries". Obtuse? Oh no. Abstruse was the word being reached for. We subeditors need to increase our wordpower, too.

 






All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:.
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


In addition, take a look at: 

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub  



Other titles on offer include:
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers.
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays