10 tips to edit with the goals of consistency, clarity and accuracy

By Steve Row

  1. Separate problem areas and read copy several times for each of these potential problems. Examples: Numbers (including dates, ages, quantities), punctuation, abbreviation, capitalization, spelling, grammar, subjective language, quotation, subject-verb agreement (singular with singular, plural with plural) and noun-pronoun agreement (singular with singular, plural with plural), length of sentences and paragraphs.
  2. Read the story aloud. If you begin to run out of breath before the end of the sentence, it is too long. If you cannot use voice inflection to make the sentence sound understandable, it is probably too confusing. If you do not understand what you just said out loud, the reader probably won’t be able to understand it by looking at the words.
  3. Have an Associated Press Stylebook on the desk as you edit and proofread copy. If the school has its own stylesheet, have that handy, too. Use a dictionary, and above all, do not rely on a computer spell-check as the first and only method of double-checking your spelling.
  4. Do not be the last person to read your own copy.
  5. Be especially careful about inconsistency. Every story should use numbers the same way, every story should refer to students and adults the same way, every story should apply all style rules consistently from top to bottom, so that the style is consistent throughout.
  6. Be suspicious of any story that doesn’t make sense – or paragraph, or sentence or quote. That includes quotes that don’t belong or that don’t stay focused on, or relate directly to, the point of the story.
  7. Check each story for fairness, balance and completeness. If you have any unanswered questions after reading the story, the reader will have questions. If you are concerned about fairness, the reader will have concerns.
  8. Be sure that news, features and sports stories are news, features and sports stories, and not some fuzzy blend or information, commentary and opinion.
  9. Be certain that the story supports the headline and the headline supports the story. If the football team is 2-6, the headline shouldn’t read, “Cyclones on a roll this season.”
  10. Strive for accuracy, objectivity, clarity, simplicity and precision in each sentence, paragraph and story. Follow journalistic rules above all others, including English rules and composition rules that might vary from journalism rules.

Steve Row was a newspaper reporter and editor for 24 years in Richmond, Va., before moving into journalism education outreach to area high schools on behalf of Richmond Newspapers for 11 years. He now lives in Greenville, N.C., where he writes, edits and teaches.