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Back to basics: Advice for writers and editors

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BY MIKE MOORE
Being a good writer or editor requires at least one thing: You must learn from your mistakes and never make the same error twice. It’s a truth that I’ve lived by in my more than 15 years of publication editing.
I’ve also acquired some other advice for writers and editors that will help improve their work, get more and better work, and create a product they can take pride in.
Advice for writers:

  • You have to read your own material once it’s published. That way, you can learn how things were changed to make your work more readable. Far too often I see the same writers making the same mistakes time and time again. At least, it is an annoyance for the editor. At worst, it might cost you future work opportunities.
  • Know the publication’s style and your editor’s preferences. Do they use past tenseor present tense? Do they use the serial comma?
  •  Try not to bombard your editors with phone calls or emails. Keep correspondence concise. These folks, like you, are busy with often-clogged inboxes. You want to be an asset, not another problem they have to address. You don’t want to risk losing a potential job simply due to over zealousness.

Advice for editors:

  • Break up the run-on sentences. Two sentences are often better than one when trying to make a point.
  • Urge your writers to write tighter. The tendency is to write longer in the outdoor world. But, this cuts against the grain of just about everything I’ve learned in the journalism profession. Readers won’t continue reading stories beyond a certain point, and I find this to be true in my own reading habits. No matter how compelling the story is, think about making it shorter. As a general rule, anything beyond about 1,200 words is too long. There are exceptions to every rule, but this is true in most cases.
  • Let readers in on the inner workings of your publication. Tell them why you do what you do. At Ohio Outdoor News, I write a column in every issue. That column is sometimes  devoted to a single topic we dealt with in the paper. Let your readers know why you decided to handle a story a certain way. I find this to be cathartic because it puts all the  evidence out there for your readership to engage in the conversation. It allows them to better understand your process and the publication.
  • Edit with fresh eyes. Each week I line up the stories I need to edit and then systematically go through the list on designated days of the week. Breaking up the editing across a few days helps me avoid burnout and missing errors. But even then it’s easy to miss  something. At the publication where I work, another person reads the copy after me to  make sure I didn’t miss anything. ♦

— Mike Moore, of Delaware, Ohio, is editor of Ohio Outdoor News, a bimonthly publication that serves readers in the Buckeye State. A former daily newspaper editor, reporter and photographer, Moore has 15 years of experience in the industry.
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