Thirty things I’ve learned after 50 years in the editor’s chair

Posted on Nov 7th, 2013 at 10:44 AM

By Rich Peck

––A blog of little interest to anyone––

1.    Don’t’ overestimate the amount of information readers have and don’t underestimate their intelligence.

2.    When you tell people you would rather not have line-ups or grip-and-grin photos, you will get line-ups and grip-and-grin photos. Use the photo you are given. It means more to the people to see their photo than it does to the editor who dreads using stilted photos.

3.    Mental editing the grammar of television commercials, songs, and newspaper articles is one of the liabilities of the position.

4.    Avoid gender-specific words such as fireman, policeman, and mankind. Use plural nouns to avoid gender-specific pronouns such as his/her and he/she. Use a non-sexist word finder.

5.    Subheads can make grey pages sparkle. Adding blurbs can add interest. Also consider numbers and bullets.

6.    Avoid jumps (continuing article on a page in the back of the magazine). Avoid widows (single word at the top of a column) and orphans (single word at the bottom of a column).

7.    Label headlines without verbs cause readers to skip pages. Don’t use the word “and” in a head; use a comma. Use single quotes and numerals in headlines. Lower case words except for proper names.

8.    If you edit a writer’s manuscript, send it back to the author before publishing. The practice avoids future complaints about distorting copy. If you write an article about someone, let him or her check the facts, but maintain control of the contents.

9.    Don’t put the Associated Stylebook back in the bookshelf. Keep it next to your keyboard. You can vary from the stylebook, but you need a good reason to do so. I capitalize Baptism and Holy Communion because these are the two sacraments for the United Methodist Church. The stylebook says only Holy Communion should be capitalized. Of course, you may also use some other stylebook.

10.    Authors are not good proof reader and spellcheck can mislead you. Recruit at least one talented proof reader (two would be better).

11.    Avoid unnecessary alphabet gumbo. Some writers will use a sentence such as: The General Commission on United Methodist Men (GCUMM) opened their session . . .” A later sentence will say, “The GCUMM took action . . “ There is no need for this; the second reference can say “The commission took action . . .” You may also use a different word such as “agency” instead of “commission.”

12.    The use of a dateline saves space and adds clarity. Some editors say the use of a dateline misleads readers to believe the author was in that city. Readers are smart enough to know by the context whether the author was actually in the city or only writing about an event in that city. There is no need to repeat the name of the city in the article.

13.    Adding adjectives frequently clutters sentences and they are often subjective; use sparingly.

14.    Use precise descriptions: Avoid: “The young child.” Instead: “The five-year-old boy.”

15.    Avoid using the same words in a single paragraph but don’t search the Thesaurus for a seldom used word.

16.    Avoid unnecessary words: “10 p.m. at night.”

17.    Don’t include subjective observations in news stories. It’s fine to quote someone who says, “It was a spin-tingling speech.” It’s not OK for the author of the news story to do so.

18.    When you can’t come up with the right adjective, try hyphenating words: “I was in an I-can’t-think-of-the-right-word situation while writing this sentence.”

19.    People who are elected from local churches to annual conferences are “members” (not delegates). People elected by annual conferences to General Conference are “delegates.”

20.    Reverend is an adjective that requires the word “the.” (The Rev. John Smith) Second reference is a matter of style. Some will use Mr. Smith. I simply use the last name (Smith).

21.    United Methodist News Service always inserts the word “regional” after the word “annual” as in the New York Annual (regional) Conference. Their news releases are sometimes used in secular newspapers, so that makes sense. I write for United Methodists, so I don’t follow that practice. On second reference there is no need to capitalize annual conference or jurisdictional conference; however, since General Conference is the actual name of the conference, it should be capitalized. I generally avoid the term central conferences as most United Methodists are not familiar with the term. Saying “annual conferences outside the United States” is sufficient.

22.    The correct title is “The United Methodist Church,” however, I write for a United Methodist audience so I use “UMC.”  If I use the full title I always capitalize The United Methodist Church.

23.    Capitalize titles before the name and lower case after the name. (Pastor John Smith) (John Smith, pastor of . .  Lower case titles when a name is not used (president of the board).

24.    The word “over” refers to spatial relationships. Use “more than” when describing numbers (More than 200 people attended the concert). Don’t use “more than” if an odd number is used. Don’t write: “More than 27 people.” Write: “Twenty-seven people . . .”

25.    While most writers know to spell out numbers one through nine except when referring to ages, the rule changes when numbers are in the same sentence (Attendance at the committee ranged from 9 to 11 people).

26.    The United Methodist Church is a global denomination. If you use the word “nation” specify which nation you are writing about.

27.    Cutlines for photos should be written in the present tense.

28.    Know the difference between there, their, they’re; its, it’s; affect, effect; that, which; lie, lay; insure, ensure, and compliment, complement.

29.    Don’t use postal abbreviations for states; use Associated Press abbreviations; save postal abbreviations for postal addresses. Some newspapers allow postal abbreviations in headlines.

30.    No matter how many times you edit an article you will think of a way to improve the copy after it has been published.


  1. Rich, Thanks for the refresher course -- FABULOUS, as alwlays!

    Posted on Nov 27th, 2013 at 12:17 PM by Angela Butler

  2. Excellent article!!! Thank you for this wisdom.

    Posted on Nov 7th, 2013 at 9:46 PM by unknown