19 Editing Tips From a Senior Editor at MSN.com

Did I tell you about the time MSN.com sent me an article assignment without me pitching a query letter? O happy day! The editor also sent me these tips for editing magazine articles before submitting it for publication. No matter what magazine or website you want to write for, you’ll these tips helpful.

Not only do these tips include the most frequent errors this editor sees (and has to painstakingly correct), they also cover important “details” that freelance writers don’t consider when writing for publication. Those details – every single little jot and tittle – matter when you’re writing for magazines and other publications. Whether you’re pitching a query letter for a feature article to MSN.com or writing a blurb for your church bulletin, your readers deserve your very best work. And it’s not your writing that makes your work brilliant…it’s how you edit your original content.

It is perfectly okay to write garbage. Every writer and author does. But it is not okay to submit writing that hasn’t been edited carefully. And it is also not okay to ignore free editing advice that will elevate your writing. Below the MSN.com editor’s tips, I included additional tips from published authors, freelance writers, and writing coaches.

19 Tips for Editing Articles From an MSN.com Editor

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life,” said Lawrence Kasdan, an American screenwriter who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi.

I hope you like homework, because that’s what this is. Remember the purpose of homework: to master the craft of writing and elevate your work to stratospheric levels.

  1. Always include your source list when submitting your article. Include references and valid links to any studies, research, findings, and people referenced in your article.
  2. Avoid using sources that don’t seem 100% reliable/trustworthy (such as authors of some self-help books). Avoid referring to books that are old or out of print unless they are classics. Also, don’t use too many sources in one article.
  3. Don’t refer to a source as a book’s author when he or she is actually a co-author. Never leave easy, obvious editing details like this to magazine editors – whether you’re writing for MSN.com or the church newsletter. Triple check that you correctly cited the book’s title and subtitle.
  4. Include and list a source’s academic credentials after his or her name. Add Ph.D. to the source’s name if warranted; this adds an element of trustworthiness for the reader. Know the details of your speciality. If you’re a health writer, for example, refer to dietician sources as “R.D.,” not “nutritionist” (because an academic degree or certification is not required to call oneself a nutritionist). Quote registered professionals in your articles.
  5. Don’t unnecessarily cap the professional title of a source. It’s a mistake, for example, to write “Chief Writer” instead of “chief writer.”
  6. Avoid making overly speculative comments and over promising results. “How do you write for MSN.com? These tips from the editors will guarantee publication results today!” is a dangerous, potentially libelous statement. If you’re writing about health or medical issues, you could have a lawsuit on your hands.
  7. Include relevant information that will interest readers, such as where a certain product or procedure is available, when it’ll be available to the public if not yet on the market, etc.
  8. Use reliable sources – especially for health information. If you’re writing a medical article for a health magazine or website, expect the editors to challenge your statements. Make sure your sources are government-endorsed (National Institute of Writing and Editing) or widely recognized (Tufts University). Never cite casual, “homegrown” websites or blogs in professional articles.
  9. Avoid relying on a very small research study and claiming that its results are conclusive/authoritative.
  10. Never give medical advice that is not substantiated or evidence-based. Always cite your research, and footnote your source material when submitting articles to editors.
  11. Make sure your articles present both sides of a controversial issue. Unless you’re writing an opinion piece, the reader should not know what side you’re on. Your editor shouldn’t even know what your opinion is if you’re writing a feature article.
  12. Avoid the overuse of parenthetical phrases for descriptions or details. Brackets (or parentheses) are “speed bumps” to readers, and may cause them to stop reading (which is the last thing you and your editor want).
  13. Punctuate phrases properly. Example of an unedited phrase: “Common-sense measures, like editing your writing after a 24 hour break, or sharpening your pencil, can go a long way toward preventing, or at least greatly decreasing your risk, for getting rejected by the editor.” Example of a good edit: “Common-sense measures, such as editing your writing after a 24 hour break and using a sharp pencil, can increase the chances your article will result in an assignment from the editor.”
  14. Avoid using the plural instead of singular when referring to body parts. Example of an unedited sentence: “All writers need to be concerned about the health of their brains.” Example of a good edit: “All writers need to be concerned about the health of his or her brain” (because every writer has only one brain! Unless, of course, they have a good editor 🙂 ). I like this sentence even better: “Every writer needs to be concerned about brain health.”
  15. Watch for sloppy construction. Example of an unedited phrase: “MSN.com urged all freelance writers to only submit articles after editing until further notice.” Example of a good edit: “MSN.com urged all freelance writers to submit articles only after editing them first” (otherwise it sounds like writers can submit unedited articles when MSN.com editors announce that they want to add additional editing work to their schedule).
  16. Avoid referring to readers in unflattering or unpleasant ways (eg, “foolish freelance writers” or “pokey published authors”).
  17. In expert Q & A articles, focus on the reader’s question. Don’t add information – even if it is related to the original topic – until you have answered the reader’s question.
  18. Include your proposed title and subtitle (dek) with your article submission or query pitch. Deks could be sentence case (not capitalized).
  19. Do not submit your text in any color other than black, or in font other than Times New Roman, 12. Unless, of course, you know your editor prefers Comic, 5.

Are you ready to pitch a query letter to your favorite magazine – or even MSN.com? It’s time to get published! Read 10 Things You Need to Know About Writing for Reader’s Digest.

19 Editing Tips From a Senior Editor at MSN.com
How to Edit Your Writing

Learning how to DIY (do it yourself) when it comes to editing your own writing isn’t just difficult, it can be downright painful. How do you edit the words you so carefully crafted? Luckily, here are eight more tips for editing. Some you may have heard before; others will be fresh, new and exciting.

8 Editing Tips From Authors and Writing Coaches

  1. Take a break from your writing before editing and revising. “After getting your basic ideas onto screen or paper, pull back.  Shift your focus in a small way.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea; check your email; or, if time permits, go for a short walk. Return later and try to look at what you’ve written as if you’ve never seen it before – you’ll be surprised at your perspective.  This technique was especially valuable to me when writing my own books.” – Tracey McBride of Frugal Luxuries.
  2. Write as tightly as possible. “See how many words you can take out and still have it say the same thing.” – Bella Stander, book publicity consultant.
  3. Let your writing flow. “When you write, don’t stop. Never self-edit as you go! Just write, even if you think it’s junk.” – Penny C. Sansevieri, writering coach.
  4. Use effective transitions. “The best editing tip I ever received was simply to make sure every sentence naturally flows from the one previous to it.” – GL Hoffman.
  5. Let your writing sit for 24 hours.  “I leave all copy for 24 hours or at least overnight. By waiting to reread, I am more likely to see errors, typos or vague generalizations.” – Nicole Amsler, freelance copywriter
  6. Let someone else edit your articles, essays, or research papers. “An editor told me, “The best way to improve as a writer is to have someone rip your work to shreds.” As a journalism professor, I agree. You can’t be married to your words. You need to be open to feedback and even harsh criticism. In fact, you should invite it. It will make you a better writer.” – Mark Grabowski of Cub Reporters.
  7. Get used to rewriting, revising, editing. “When I took a creative writing class in college I heard some bad news.  On the first day, our professor informed us that 90% of all good writing is re-writing! I did not want to believe him at the time. But, hard experience has taught me the truth of this statement.” – Tracey McBride, book author and blogger.
  8. Distance yourself from your work. “A renewed mind brings renewed objectivity. Nothing else makes me as quickly aware of the places for improvement in my text than to remove myself temporarily – overnight, for the a.m. or p.m., or even for 15 minutes.” – Niki Anderson, author and speaker.

Now that you’re armed with these editing tips, what will you write? If you have no idea, read 11 Most Popular Types of Magazine Articles – Print & Online.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

13 thoughts on “19 Editing Tips From a Senior Editor at MSN.com”

  1. Good: Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brain. (Each person has only one brain!)

    “Everyone” is a singular pronoun. Therefore as an antecedent to another pronoun, it has to take the singular form. “Their” is plural.

    Right: Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of his or her brain.

    Awkward? Yes!
    Suggestion: All of us need to be concerned about the health of our brains.

  2. Hello Marney,

    The deck is a subhead or subtitle. In this example, “19 Editing Tips From a Senior Editor at MSN.com: How to Think Like an Editor”, the “How to Think Like an Editor” is the deck.

    Sorry it took so long to respond – something tells me you probably figured out what a deck is by now 🙂

    All good things,

  3. Hi Laurie,
    I am editing and proofreading a couple of articles for a magazine and have been asked to “come up with a headline and deck”. What is a deck?


  4. Laurie, I’ve been trying to locate your email address to send you MANY props. I don’t bookmark often. However, you are now my FAVORITE blogger/mentor (at minimum). Absolutely amazing, inspiring, and beyond helpful! Thank you so much for your time, efforts, and plethora of resources. All the best! I aspire to be like you one day!

  5. I pointed this out because “Their” seems to have some acceptance, depending on the style (formal or informal)of the publication. Since this came from an editor that seems to indicate an informal style for “their” 😉 publication. Perhaps in another post you could discuss this?

  6. Actually, these editorial tips came directly from the editor — with minimal editing on my part! So, I left the “their” in that sentence, even though it stuck in my craw. I did debate tweaking it, but decided to let it rest.

    I don’t like using “one” — I agree that it sounds pretentious. Like Fraser Crane! lol

    My first choice is to use the word “you”, because it’s easier and more personal. But in this case, saying “You need to be concerned about the health of your brain,” is a little too direct. Too targeted, somehow.

    I use plurals whenever I can. If I edited the sentence you pointed out, I would’ve written, “Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brains.”

    Thanks for pointing it out, Norm! I think I love grammar 🙂 not a bad trait for a writer.

  7. Laurie,

    Good stuff.

    About the sentence, “Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brain.” It seems that you are in the “it’s okay to use ‘their’ in place of ‘his'” camp. I like it, but some grammar mavens may frown on its use. I continue to substitute one’s though it does sound slightly pretentious.

    Any good work-arounds for the his/her conundrum?

  8. Laurie,

    Rut-ro. As I perused this list, I’m afraid I may be guilty of some. Afraid I’ll have to take the 5th on which ones though 😉

    I’ve got this bookmarked for future reference (as I do so many of your posts)


  9. And Ann — thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found Quips and Tips helpful, and would love to see you around the site 🙂

  10. Thanks for your thoughts, Maija! I’m guilty of relying on experts more than PubMed — your comment is a great reminder to get back into the research findings….and even verify an expert’s words with current studies.

  11. As a medical writer I firmly believe that everyone writing about medical and health topics should primarily get their information from PubMed (and sometimes experts). Way too many people call themselves “health writers” and they pretty much pull all their information fron WebMD and Wikipedia. If you can’t use PubMed, you have no place in writing about anything that has to do with medicine.

  12. Laurie,

    I came to your blog by way of Twitter and I just subscribed to your feed. So many writing blogs leave me unimpressed, but yours is on my list of blogs to visit on my daily rounds.