These tips for editing magazine articles are from an editor at MSN.com – they include some of the most frequent errors she sees in her freelance writers’ article submissions.
Pay attention, fellow scribes, because even when you think you’ve got writing down to a fine art, there’s always more to learn!
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly,” said C. J. Cherryh. Read on, and you’ll see that this MSN.com editor agrees completely…
Don’t let writer’s block or fear paralyze you. Instead, jot it all down…and edit brilliantly with these editorial tips from an experienced senior editor.
Need an editing Bible? Study a book such as Everyday Editing. The more you learn about editing, the easier it’ll be to tighten up your writing.
Quote Your Sources and Experts Properly
1. Always include your source list when submitting your article. Include references and links to any studies, research, findings, and people that you reference in your article.
2. Avoid using sources that don’t seem 100% reliable/trustworthy (such as authors of some self-help books). Avoid referring books that are old or out of print (unless it’s a classic), and avoid using 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. Be careful when identifying a book’s title. Make sure you get the title 100% correct.
4. Include and list a source’s academic credentials after his or her name (use Andrew Weil, M.D., at first reference, not Dr. Weil). Add Ph.D. to the source’s name if warranted; it may be taken for granted to you if a scientist is being quoted, but this adds an element of trustworthiness for the reader. Refer to dietician sources as “R.D.,” not “nutritionist” (no academic degree or certification is required to call oneself a nutritionist). Seek out registered dieticians over “nutritionists” as sources.
5. Don’t unnecessarily cap the professional title of a source: “Chief Scientist” instead of “chief scientist.”
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6. Avoid making overly speculative comments and over promising results, especially in articles about things like dieting. “You’ll lose 5 pounds in 2 weeks with this plan” is a statement that is dangerous and could result in a lawsuit. Avoid calling a weight-loss study a breakthrough, miracle, etc.
7. Include relevant information that would 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, such as nutrition or diets. Make sure your sources are government-endorsed (National Institute of Health) or widely recognized (Tufts University). There are far too many homemade/sketchy nutrition Web sites.
9. Avoid reliance on a very small study and attributing its results as conclusive/authoritative.
10. Don’t give medical advice that’s unsubstantiated or not evidence-based.
11. Make sure your articles present both sides of a controversial issue.
Pay Attention to Grammar and Punctuation
12. Avoid the overuse of parenthetical phrases for descriptions or details. Brackets are “speed bumps” to readers, and may cause them to stop reading.
13. Punctuate appositive phrases properly.
- Bad: Common-sense measures like washing your hands or getting a flu shot, can go a long way toward preventing or greatly decreasing your risk for getting one or more of these viral illnesses.
- Good: Common-sense measures, such as washing your hands or getting a flu shot, can go a long way toward preventing or greatly decreasing your risk for getting one or more of these viral illnesses.
14. Avoid using the plural instead of singular when referring to body parts.
- Bad: Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brains.
- Good: Everyone needs to be concerned about the health of their brain. (Each person has only one brain!)
15. Watch for sloppy construction.
- Bad: The FDA urged the public to only eat peanut butter until further notice.
- Good: The FDA urged the public to eat peanut butter only from jars until further notice. (Otherwise, it sounds like the public should eat peanut butter to the exclusion of every single other food in the world!)
- Bad: fatty foods you should eat every day.
- Good: 6 healthy-fat foods (Nobody should eat 6 fatty foods every day!)
If your pitches never get accepted, read 6 Tips for Writing Articles That Editors Will Buy and Publish.
Miscellaneous Editing Tips
16. Avoid referring to readers in unflattering or unpleasant ways (eg, “chubby” or “dim-witted”).
17. For expert Q & A articles, focus on the reader’s question. Don’t supplement the piece with related topics 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.
For more magazine writing tips, read How Do You Get Paid for an Article After the Editor Leaves?
If you have any thoughts on these tips from a senior editor, please comment below…