Weekend Wrinkle: Support a Copy Editor


Copy editors, the unsung heroes of the writing world, are finally getting recognition. Unfortunately, it is because they face losing their jobs.

Hundreds of the New York Times employees walked out June 29 to protest the elimination of  the Times’ stand-alone copy desk where about 100 copy editors toil away to make the paper readable and accurate. Those folks have been “invited” to apply for 50 copy editing positions that will be available. (For an in depth look, see the Washington Post’s “Why hundreds of New York Times employees staged a walkout.” )

For years I have watched as copy editing positions were eliminated in favor of “streamlining” communication. The result has always been mistakes, confusion, and inaccuracy flooding through (not to mention hideously bad grammar and usage).

Modern communication, especially news, is focused on speed. The faster you can get the information out, the better. Copy editing slows things down.  Heck, you can always apologize for getting it wrong later on. We all know how well that works.

Copy editors make sure that what gets out is accurate, clean, and understandable. They can also save a publication’s butt by making sure potentially libelous phrasing and misinformation doesn’t make it out into pubic. (Can you say “Sarah Palin,” NYT?)

How many times has a copy editor saved you from an embarrassing mistake? I have a friend who will call me up to let me know I’ve made an error in this blog. Bless her soul for that! I’m sending out cosmic hugs to all you eagle-eyed folks!

Copy editors know that their best work is invisible. Readers can’t see what was cut, reworked, or fact checked. But, boy, readers sure notice when that work isn’t done!

With accusations of “fake news” being flung all over the place, why would you cut holes in your safety net by laying off copy editors, especially when you’re seen as the newspaper of record in the United States?

The best headline I’ve seen about this is from The Concourse on Deadspin.com: “The New York Times Is Killing Its Soul.”



Don’t Forget What Supports Good Writing

smoke_miasma copy

There is several things I eluded to recently that cause me to reign in my ideals about writing good?

Who read that and thought, “Has she lost her mind?!”

People who think grammar, word choice, and punctuation aren’t all that important don’t seem to understand that those elements are necessary for clear communication. Clarity of writing is the target we all (except maybe politicians, legislators, and lawyers) must strive for.

Any business knows that clearly and precisely outlining the benefits of the products or services it offers means success.

What happens when we ignore the guidelines for good writing? One thing is that we make our readers work too hard. If the reader has to go back several times in a sentence to try to “translate” what the writer means, the reader is forced to concentrate on the mechanics rather than the meaning.

Worse than that, we all know what happens when people have to fill in the blanks of intention. In the old game of telephone, a message is whispered along to each player in a line until, by the end, what comes out barely resembles the original message. Let’s not provide an environment of obscurity.

We need to remember that grammar is the infrastructure that supports the easy flow of communication while precision with words is the traffic light that guides the reader to the idea.

We write to share – to provide information, evoke emotion, or persuade. If we ignore the elements that create good writing, we fail to communicate.

😕 My Emoji Anxiety 😓

Yesterday (July 17) was World Emoji Day, and I felt a bit like Chicken Little. chickenemoji.png

The thought of emoji taking over human communication flashed across my mind, and I feared for the state of the written word. 😥

Are we falling back into the age of hieroglyphics? Will we lose the nuances only a written sentence can provide? Can emoji actually help communication cross language barriers or will cultural perspectives trip us up?👸👳💂

Just look at the emoji translation of the first line of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:EmojiCallmeIshmaelI don’t get it.

Will I be forced to learn a new language? (Seriously, I’m finally getting English straightened out in my head!) 😖

To calm my fears, I did what I usually do: I looked on the Web to see what other people are thinking. Turns out, most “experts” believe that emoji will augment writing much like facial expressions and hand gestures augment speaking.🙆

As someone of Italian descent, I think I can live with that.🍕💁


P.S. I’m not fluent in emoji. If I’ve created something negative or off-color, it was unintentional. 😳

Don’t Fall into the TMI Trap

overflowing bag

Have you ever tried to cram ten pounds of stuff into a five-pound bag?

As writers, we tend to succumb to this temptation more than we want to admit. I’m very guilty of this. I have to weed out all those parenthetical phrases and asides I just love to put into my writing.

Why? Why do we do it in the first place? What drives us?

It’s not a psychological deficiency. I like to think of it as excessive generosity. You see, writers, in the course of research and transmitting information, want to share everything they find out. As someone I know might say, “It’s all such lovely stuff.”

Unfortunately, this compulsion to share ends up being as big a disaster as sitting a starving man down before an banquet of rich, exotic food. It’s just too much, and it’s not what he needs.

The end result? He’ll probably end up vomiting his guts out and be worse off than he started.

No writer wants to make her reader barf.

The good news is that we can avoid this by feeding our readers only what is informationally “nutritious.” Give the information to them in sufficient quantity and quality for what they need.

Sometimes you can use appendices, footnotes, and (my favorite) post scripts – the snack cupboards of writing — if you just can’t contain yourself. Just make sure they are pertinent.

Here’s an example of what to avoid and how to fix it:

The machine, which was made by a company founded in the late 1800s by a tinsmith peddling his wares through the streets of New York City on a cart drawn by a former thoroughbred horse down on its luck, processes screws (created with such precision that the clearance is less than 1/100th of a strand of a human hair) for surgical use.

Translated: The machine processes screws for surgical use.

Writers, don’t throw out all that other information. You can always use it for something else and for readers who have the “palate” for it. (Hmm, maybe I can write a novel about a tinsmith and his horse.)

Does Culling Vocabulary ‘Dumb Down’ Future Writing?

In “Elegy for lost verbiage,” Economist Obituary Editor Ann Wroe  wrote a wonderful piece using words that are disappearing from the SAT verbal test in 2016. RIP vocabulary

The piece was sent to me recently by my friend (and clipping service) Barbara S. Rivette. The editor in both of us just can’t let items like this pass by.

Now, I’m not opposed to eliminating antediluvian words such as cleave, gourmand, pellucid, penurious, vituperate, and obstreperous. However, I think the College Board has gone a little too far.

Among the words headed for the garbage heap are garrulous, virtuoso, duress, licentious, dirge, bashful, quaint, negligent, and (appropriately) extraneous. I think these are words that can pinpoint meaning and give just the right seasoning to our writing. Other words on the chopping block that I think are vivid and useful are maelstrom, nadir, beguile, morass, tirade, and anachronistic.

With immediate access to online dictionaries, why are we eliminating these words from the vocabulary of our young people? Will we revert to monosyllabic synonyms to ensure students can pass their SATs with enough points to get into college? What then?

One of the best things about English is its lush, expansive vocabulary. It has a huge inventory that allows for beautiful verbal creations. Can you imagine poets 25 years from now not having diaphanous in their word arsenals?

By not expecting students to stretch their vocabularies, are we doing a disservice to future writers?

How We Leap into Chaos When We Spell the Way We Speak

Happy Leap Day!Shrf's cawfee
I was talking with a colleague recently about how people misspell words. One that always gets me is when people write “use” when they mean “used.” For example, she use to go to school with me.

Amanda pointed out people make that type of mistake because they are writing words the way they hear them. This is just like using “could of” and “would of” instead of “could have” or “could’ve” and “would have” or “would’ve.”

Part of the problem is folks don’t read enough anymore to recognize the difference (and good, correct writing is getting harder to come by). Part of the problem is there are regional differences in the U.S. (and anywhere else, for that matter) that affect what we say and how we pronounce things.

For instance, my mother-in-law would say, “I’m going down cellar.” She would leave out the article “the” all the time. (It was always “cellar,” never “basement,” too.)

One phrase I had to get used to when I moved to the South was “put it up” instead of “put it away.”

My mother, a bit of a stickler for good grammar, was not immune. She would not turn a light on or off; she would “open” the light or “close” it.

Anyone hearing me talk about Long Island would immediately recognize by my hard pronunciation of the “ng” that I grew up in the New York metropolitan area. (I wonder what I would put at the end of “long” if I was spelling it as I speak it, a “k”?) My son-in-law laughs at me when I say coffee (cawfee) or sheriff (shrf). Sigh.

Sometimes my many years spent living in Central New York will pop up when I find the diphthong ou coming out as “oo” instead of “ow”: He was aboot to jump off the cliff.

One thing that sets off my grammar radar is when people mispronounce “suite.” People often pronounce it like suit instead of sweet. When people say, “I bought a new living room suite [pronounced suit],” I always get this vision of an easy chair in pinstripes and double rows of buttons.

Amanda cautions her students that, while differences in pronunciation are acceptable when speaking, they shouldn’t be made when writing.

Can you imagine the chaos if everyone wrote exactly the way they spoke?

How to Grow a Good Communication Plan

vegetable gardenA good communication plan for a business or freelancer is like a healthy home garden. It has the appropriate plant with the appropriate soil condition planted at the appropriate time for the most successful harvest.

How does a garden compare to a communication plan?


Any gardener knows that you have to think about where to position each type of plant for maximum effectiveness. Tomatoes need sun and water; some herbs, like parsley, do better with a bit of shade. Beans need a structure on which to climb.

When deciding on what channels to communicate, the business owner or freelancer needs to determine which best suits the desired outcome. For instance, many small businesses find a social networking page more than adequate while others will build a web site. Some use both to cover a wider audience.


Gardeners know that they need to enrich soil for nutrients and provide water. Some plants can tolerate long, very hot, dry spells; others, not so much.

Business communicators need to analyze the relationship between a particular channel and how the message is being broadcast. For instance, a microblog like Twitter might be great for keeping customers and employees updated on events and new products (with links to more detailed information, of course). However, that is not the way to announce negative news like product failures.


Gardeners know they must nurture the plants to keep them healthy. Weeding, fertilizing, and controlling bugs aren’t glamorous, but they need to be done regularly for a successful harvest.

Communication plans need periodic checks, too. Analyzing what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and what options are out there takes time that many business people think they don’t have. However, communication plans need to be maintained to be successful. No one wants to continue to waste time and effort on communication strategies that aren’t working.


Every gardener researches the best time to plant different crops in their garden and the best times to harvest. Last frost and first frost are vital yardsticks to know for a successful garden.

Business communication also goes in cycles. Some times of the year are better for a product campaign than others. (Selling push lawnmowers in the dead of winter usually isn’t a good marketing strategy.) Knowing the attitude of an audience is also essential. (Announcing a deep discount on a product that’s just had a safety recall isn’t the best timing.)

Excess Success

Gardeners often find themselves with a bumper crop they can’t possibly use up themselves. (A zucchini experience comes to mind.) In that case, gardeners will share the bounty.

When successful communication strategies cause such a great increase in business that one organization or freelancer can’t handle it, be generous and share the wealth. It will often come back as new opportunities.

You don’t need to wear bib overalls to create a communications plan, but keeping in mind some gardening strategies might just make it a bit easier.

A Time for Every Word

TimeAn old friend from my newspaper days called me up a little while ago.

“You’ll never believe what happened,” she said.

She is in the process of training someone to take over her communications position as she transitions from semi to full retirement.

“The new person wrote a press release, and it needed a lot of help,” my friend explained, “I told her, ‘You can’t wait until the end to put in the main idea; bring it up to the beginning. This information is in the wrong place, and this isn’t correct.’  I stopped suddenly, and it came to me in a rush: I sounded just like you!”

My chest filled with pride. Years of effort had borne fruit! I was not a grammar prophet crying in the wilderness. (Stage direction: a tear of joy trickles down my face.)

One big mistake I see from lots of people who are writing to publicize their products, services, or events is burying the important stuff in a sea of dreck. They are so caught up in setting the scene and painting a pretty picture of what’s going on, that they forget they need to place what they want the reader to remember right up front.

It’s like those commercials we find so cute or funny or interesting, but can never remember what product they’re advertising.

People have to remember they’re competing in a Pacific Ocean of information. Readers want quick access, or they’ll float along to somewhere else. There’s a reason journalists are taught to lead with who, what, where, when, and how. There’s a reason they write in active, not passive, voice.

This doesn’t mean we can’t be a little creative. We just need to stay on point.

On the other hand, I can’t condemn too harshly those who insist on filling pages with useless verbal flourishes. They help keep Mona (my dog) and DC (my cat) in kibble.

When to Seek Professional Help: Editing


It’s done! You’ve finished your writing project.

You went through the agony of how to get started. You fretted over what words to use and whether they produce the result you want. You drove yourself, everyone around you, and even your pets crazy with getting it written and then revising endlessly.

You’re done, but is the process really over? Do you need someone to edit what you wrote? That’s a question every writer asks, and there’s no pat answer. (Okay, I’m an editor; I thing everything needs to be edited.)

The main thing to determine is the importance of clear, understandable, and professional writing. If mistakes are going to taint your reputation or drive away readers or potential customers, you need to seriously consider working with an experienced editor.

Of course, there are lots of other questions that have to be answered, too.

  • What’s the purpose? Is it a quick e-mail, a marketing piece, a blog, a press release, or a book? The more involved the writing piece is and the more people who will see it, the greater the need for a skilled editor.
  • Who’s the audience? If you’re trying to impress someone, you definitely need the help of someone proficient in written English. We so often can’t see problems with organization and grammar in our own writing. We all (me, too!) need a fresh, competent review of our work to make it sparkle. What many consider sloppy writing errors (misused words, misspellings, run-on sentences) and poor organization can ruin those all-important first – and even subsequent – impressions.
  • What’s the time frame? How quickly does it need to be turned around? So many times, people want things “fast and good.” The problem is that “fast” often leads to errors. We’re in such a hurry to meet a deadline that we can’t put it aside to review later with fresh eyes. With “fast,” we sometimes have to sacrifice “good.” How much not-so-good writing will readers tolerate? If you have a relationship with an editor, it may be possible to squeeze in that review no matter how fast you need to work.
  • What’s the writer’s skill level and experience? Some writers are good with mechanics but trip up on organization or phrasing. Some are great storytellers but can’t spell to save their lives. I once worked with a reporter who was terrific at finding and writing stories. However, she was lousy in mechanics. Anyone reading her raw copy would think she was a terrible writer. As her editor, it was my job to showcase the brilliance of her work. More experienced writers, who recognize and can correct their writing weaknesses, can often squeak by without an editor for some writing, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it for everything.


Working with a professional editor is an investment in your writing. There are always questions we need to answer no matter what we invest in. We must look at the return on our investment (ROI). Will working with an editor help us keep readers, gain new readers, make our ideas more attractive, put our products and services in their best light, or make the piece more attractive to a publisher?  A good editor will always strive to make your writing as extraordinary as possible.

To learn more about professional editing services, visit AIC Communication Services or e-mail info@aic-communication-services.com.

The Power in ‘Once Upon a Time…’

Once uponThe house creaked as the winter wind howled outside. Although it retained some of its 1870s grandeur – the cherry moldings, the columned entryway to the living room, the kitchen’s wainscoting – the house had undergone many changes over the years.

“Trying to tell me your life story?” she thought as she snuggled deeper into her recliner. “And what stories you could tell…”

Stories – they are the most powerful way humans communicate. Every writer – sometimes deep, deep down – wants to write a great novel. (C’mon, you know you do!)

Why? Why do we “torture” high school students with 500-year-old Shakespeare plays? Why are Aesop’s Fables and fairly tales by the Brothers Grimm still being told or read to children? Why do we read works like The Lord of the Rings over and over again?

What gives a story its power? All stories offer some universal truths, but it is the way they put them before us that make them powerful.

I could tell you to forgive your kids for foolish choices even if they blow all their money and need to move back home. Or I could say that you may think you’re a nice person, but it is your actions that are the real test.

Who is going to remember that? But more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus told the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Those stories were so powerful, their titles have become part of our everyday language.

Yet stories are not just for fiction. Businesses large and small know the value of telling their “story.” Every business or organization has an “About Us” page. A good story keeps the company in the customer’s mind.

So, how do we tap into this power? Well, we need the secret ingredients. (Okay, they’re not so secret, but we often forget them.) We need:

  • a protagonist (hero, heroine – whatever) with a problem
  • the conflict between the problem and arriving at the solution
  • the protagonist solving the problem
  • life with the problem solved

Simple, right? Hold on there! Not so simple. We need to be able to combine these in the right way to make it successful.

So here’s my attempt to tell you the story of John S. Pemberton.

It was 1886, and Atlanta, Georgia had just passed prohibition. This meant renowned local pharmacist and chemist John S. Pemberton could no longer sell Pemberton’s French Wine Coca there.

He had created the drink, based on a French formula, to aid digestion, give strength to muscles and the nervous system, and provide a boost of energy. It was all based on the “miraculous” properties of the coca plant, sacred to the Native South American. Since a main ingredient of the formula was wine, it was now banned from Atlanta.

Pemberton did what any industrious inventor would; he went back to the drawing board. He substituted sugar syrup for the wine and renamed the concoction Coca-Cola.

The rest is history.

This information was taken from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.