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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writing Quote: The Newspaper Copy Editor

     When a copy editor gets to work on an article for The New York Times, it doesn't matter what section its for, the guiding principal is the same one that doctors embrace when they take the Hipocratic Oath: First do no harm.

     If I were an editor looking at the opening sentence of this piece,…I'd start with the glaring factual mistake: "First do no harm" is nowhere to be found in the oath. The ancient Greek physician may have written those words, or something like them, but he did not put them in the oath, despite what is commonly believed.

     And while we're at it, that "its" should be "it's." That "principal" should be "principle." And it should be "Hippocratic," with two "Ps." And isn't the whole thing a little long? And maybe a cliche? And--sorry to be a stickler--but isn't the reference to "ancient Greek physician" in the second paragraph an example of what The New York Times stylebook frowns on as indirection ("sidling into facts as if the reader already knew them")?…

     Fortunately, most of the stories that have come across my desk in my 15 years at The Times are in a lot better shape than that.

     Copy editors are basically one of the last lines of defense before articles are posted on the web or put in the paper. We try to make sure that a story is factually accurate, balanced, and grammatical. We're also responsible for making sure it complies with The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. And we write headlines and captions….

Eric Nagourney, "The Copy Desk: The End of the Gauntlet (or Is It 'Gantlet'?)," The New York Times, May 12, 2014

1 comment:

  1. This is dependent on the readership, the type of copy and how the copy is going to be read (e.g. in a book or on a computer screen).



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