Friday, October 24, 2014

The Editor’s Desk—A No-nonsense Approach to Non-Fiction

by Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

Repeat after me:

“Editors are my friends. They are not enemies determined to ruin my devotion, article, or novel. Their job is to make me and my work the best we can possibly be. Editors are my friends.”

Now we can move forward on the premise that because editors are our friends, we would never, ever, ever want to drive them crazy. A crazy editor is not our friend.

Last month I shared two things that drive editors crazy. This month, in case you’re considering career suicide, I’ll share a few more. If you’re a smart writer, you’ll avoid these pitfalls and be well on your way to making your editor smile.

How to Drive an Editor Crazy, Part II

Quote facts without attribution.
If you say, “Haiti is spiritually and economically depressed because its citizens signed a pact with the devil,” you’d better have a credible source to back this up. Publications will differ on how they want you to document your sources. Some prefer insource notation, others want footnotes or end notes, but they all agree—undocumented facts are a sign of sloppy journalism. And please don’t begin a sentence with “According to . . .” Recast the sentence if necessary, but figure out a less formulaic way of quoting your source.

Use the word that excessively.
That in some sentences is a relative pronoun that introduces an adjective clause. Other times, that is superfluous. A good test to determine whether the word is necessary is to delete it and see if the sentence still makes sense.

Example: The first sight that I saw was a dog running toward me.
Example: I went to the store that had the birthday cake in the window.

In the first example, I can remove the word that without changing the meaning of the sentence. In the second, I cannot.

Use the plural pronoun they with a singular subject.

Example: When a student doesn’t want to go to gym class it’s usually because they hate dressing out in front of others.

Writers do this because they don’t want to use the dreaded and awkward he/she. As noble as their motive is, however, it’s never OK. One way to avoid this is to pick a gender and use it throughout, knowing your readers will understand your thoughts apply to both genders.

Example: When a student doesn’t want to go to gym class, it’s usually because he hates dressing out in front of others.

Another way to avoid this is to use the plural in both cases.

Example: When students don’t want to go to gym class, it’s usually because they hate dressing out in front of others.

Professional writers provide proper attribution whenever they quote sources and take note of incorrect grammar and usage. Watching for these errors and correcting them before we submit our work will ensure we’ll never, ever, ever drive our editors crazy.


1 comment:

  1. Lori, thanks so much! I've been constantly deleting "that" from my sentences--yes, I am one of "those" writers--but without understanding. You just gave me a concrete rule to use. Your tip is very helpful.