Avoiding the Copy Editor’s Dope Slap

This holiday season give yourself the gift of strong writing. Writing clear, concise and correct text for news releases, fact sheets, web postings and other documents is an absolute must for communications professionals. Here are five tips that will help writers be precise and avoid a dope slap from gruff copy editors.

Use the right word: Common misused words are:

  • “It” versus “they.” Using the wrong pronoun is bad form. Use “it” when referring to a company and “they” when speaking of people. It ls incorrect to say: “Intel is a big company. They employ thousands.” The correct way is: “Intel is a big company. It employs thousands.” Better yet, avoid “it” for a better word such as the “manufacturer,” or the “technology firm.”
  • "Since" versus "because." Use "since" only to note the passage of time (Since yesterday), not as a substitute for "because." (Because she was from Oregon, she wore rain gear.)
  • "Over" rather than "more than." Use "more than" when referring to a number and "over" in describing proximity, such as "over the table."
  • "Over" in lieu of "during." It's not "over the year." But "during the year, decade, century" and so forth.
  • "Feel" rather than "believe." You "feel" with your finger tips, but you "believe" in opinions or decisions.

Eliminating unneeded words: Read aloud what you’ ve written. Certain phrases add no value or clarity and may be eliminated. A few examples:

  • In order: The wrong way: “In order to explain himself, he wrote a blog.” This is better: “He wrote a blog to explain himself.”
  • Whether or not: The word “whether” implies a choice. “Or not” usually is unnecessary baggage. For more on whether or not to use whether or not, click here.

Pare back prepositional phrases.

It is not: "Now is the time to begin consideration of the possibility of eliminating a few prepositional phrases." Try it with fewer words: "Now is the time to eliminate a few prepositional phrases."

Don't split infinitives: Keep verbs and auxiliaries together.

  • "You should always do it right." Try: "You always should do it right."
  • "He will also get agitated." Try: "He also will get agitated."
  • "Be sure to clearly answer the question." Try: "Be sure to answer the question clearly."

The debate over split infinitives has divided English speakers for centuries, according to The American Heritage® Book of English Usage. Acknowledging the pros and cons in this long-running argument, the book's editors state: "Still, if you dislike infinitives split by adverbs, you can often avoid them without difficulty. You can easily recast the sentence 'To better understand the miners' plight, he went to live in their district' as 'to understand the miners' plight better, he went to live in their district.

Be complete when using proper names:

On first mention, use an organization’s complete name. It’s not Wells Fargo but Wells Fargo Bank, not Intel but Intel Corporation, not Tek but Tektronix Inc. and not the House but the U.S. House of Representatives. And so on.

And here is an extra stocking stuffer for the grumpy copy editor.

Use short sentences. At the most, a sentence never should have more than one “and” or other conjunction. Look for a way to break the phrase into two sentences.

This season, give yourself the gift of strong writing.