Monday, October 30, 2006

Catch bad copy

Boot Camp attendees brush up on editing style and techniques
By Jeff Geleski, board member, Kansas City chapter, ASBPE

Ron Johnson, an assistant professor of journalism for Kansas State University, said he took on the role of bad cop at the event. He put those in attendance in grammar school by serving a style quiz. Numerals, capitalization and even sexism — it’s police officer and not policeman — were covered in the quiz.

Johnson’s talk was called “Brushing up on AP style and advanced editing techniques.” He listed some of his pet peeves during his presentation. For example, major, unique, reaction and impact all are overused words, he said. Using parentheses inside quotes are problematic, Johnson said, for three reasons: The parenthetical detracts from the accuracy of quotes, it’s weak writing and it makes the source appear stupid.

Having taught at Kansas State since 1989, Johnson said he tells his students to know the difference between a colon and a semicolon, and then he tells the students to try to avoid using them. It upsets him when students fail to correctly use “its” and “theirs.”

“This drives me insane,” he said.

Johnson added he tells students to edit with a dirty mind, or know when readers might consider another meaning of a word. Saying someone will head a company may not be a good idea in a headline.

While most copy editors already know to use the Associated Press stylebook and dictionaries, Johnson said not all dictionaries are equal.

“Some are stronger than others,” he said.

The book Words on Words by John Bremner is another good resource for copy editors, he added.

Copy editors, he said in closing, should think of themselves as part of a team. They should be proactive in helping reporters make changes in any grammar or style weaknesses they have.

During the break following his session, Johnson critiqued design elements of attendees' magazines. A graduate of Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., Johnson is the editor of The Best of Newspaper Design, a 272-page book that showcases the nearly 1,500 winners in the Society for News Design’s international competition.



Anonymous said...

Good story. Just for future referece, Fort Hays State University is in Hays, Kansas. There is no town in Kansas called Fort Hays.

Spring Suptic said...

I wish that I could say the error was part of an editing test. It wasn't. And I have corrected the post. Thanks.