2010-08-21 05:26:25Copy editor


John has mentioned doing a style book for authors working here, a necessary tool when we have so many authors contributing.

Looking at my own material as well other authors' work here I'm struck by the need for another resource employed by publications, that being a copy editor or some facsimile thereof, somebody in charge of the mundane details of ensuring we don't shoot ourselves in the foot with distracting errors. Thinking back on my own experience with professional communications, I'm reminded that  grammatical errors, typographic mistakes or other technical glitches are important diagnostics of general credibility. Many people will discount what they read regardless of basic content if they discover too many grammar problems or other errors of whatever variety.

John Russell has been doing yeoman duty applying his professional skills to our efforts here but I'm sure he does not want to assume the formal role of copy editor. Probably none of us do, so we'll need to strive to somehow realize the same benefits as a copy editor affords, as a collective.

I have a specific suggestion w/regard to this. In my late broadcasting days I spent some time as the person sitting at a desk where all unresolved problems stopped. One day shortly after we'd mailed our monthly program guide an enraged caller was passed up the line and  I found myself dealing with a retired copy editor, a man whose patience had finally been exhausted as he was monthly confronted with all of our dumb mistakes.

This fellow suggested a simple trick I'd never thought of before which some of the rest us may well have already heard. Simply read your work backwards once you feel it's complete. What a great idea, and guess what, it works really well! Errors leap into view. Reading in the normal direction our minds take a lot of shortcuts to make the process more efficient, which is why it's so easy to miss two of the word "the" in succession, as one example. This effect becomes even worse as we revise and edit our own work; after several revisions it's barely possible for many of us to actually read what we've written. Reading backwards forces us to think about what we're reading in a way impossible going in the normal direction.

So as one step to substituting for our missing copy editor, before anything is released or we vote thumbs up take a moment to read backwards.

2010-08-21 06:25:06Agree!
John Russell


Doug. It's a great suggestion from a guy who was clearly an expert. I never thought of that. When I check stuff I have two modes; one where I read and endeavour to understand what's being said, and one where I just look at the words, making no attempt to understand what they say. In the second mode I pick up many more typos and inconsistencies.

There's another way to ensure you don't screw up: read what you've written out loud! It will become obvious where commas should be and perhaps where we should make one long sentence into two shorter ones -- which is something even reading backwards won't tell you.

If I can make a general comment to everyone; try to make your sentences as short as possible!  And don't worry if it means you repeat yourself. Repeating yourself is good -- and what's more it helps the reader get to grips with the point you're making!

A sign of good writing is the rythmn. A short sentence after a long sentence, and so on. Long sentences one after another are tiring! But there are no absolute rules. Needs must!  

Best wishes,


PS: If others would like me to make more suggestions, I will. But I don't want to come across as a clever dick. I'll leave that to Doug. 

2010-08-21 06:38:02


"Clever dick," that's me, heh! What sort of dick, that's the question.

John I don't think you should hesitate to make suggestions. As far I as know you're the only professional writer on staff here. Come to think of it, I'm slighting Graham Wayne as well for than matter our scientist contributors who after all in a manner of speaking write for a living.

Another suggestion but it involves killing trees. I find online editing mistake-prone; for some reason I do a better job reading from paper than I do electronically. Maybe others don't have the same issue.


2010-08-21 06:42:15
John Russell


You're right -- one always sees more mistakes when it's printed out on paper. However a good trick is to change the typeface, type size and/or line length. It's amazing how that can show up errors that are 'hiding'!

Best wishes,


2010-08-21 16:21:29Printing


Hi Doug,

this "Another suggestion but it involves killing trees. ... "

does not have to be true! Just use recycled paper ;-)



2010-08-21 16:32:51Out loud boy
Graham Wayne

I'm an 'out loud' boy myself - as the tongue trips up, so the editing begins. But I will admit I'm not spending the time on the polish I normally do. I'm pushed for time, and already find myself torn between writing new rebuttals, reading and commenting on others, and contributing the thumbs - all duties in this kind of collaboration. My main concern is to get stuff out the door, so I do compromise a bit on writing quality in my own work.

It's true BTW that I write for a living. I'm also broke...(insert ironic remark here)...

2010-09-07 22:30:28Copy Editor


I am a retired copy editor (amongst other hated things) and would be happy to copy edit.Give me a sample or two to do and you can decide whether I can help. Then, just let me know what you want copy edited (everything?) and I will be glad to give it a shot.

Copy editing comprises much more than just proof reading. I can usually shorten a document. I read for sense and organization and completeness (so there is usually some give-and-take between me and the author).

Most of my actual copy editing career was of formal scientific papers at such places as argonne National Lab, Idaho National engineering Laboratory, General Atomics (Air force Super Computer Center)

I will admit to shorting my own emails and other correspondence. When I am writing i am often hurrying. When I am editing I am editing.

2010-09-07 22:32:26Copy editing

Notice my great proofreading above! I was in a hurry to go get another cup of coffee. My editing is better than this example.
2010-09-08 02:40:45copy editing


You are welcome to apply yourself to my new article on positive feedback and runaways. Either post comments or post your version (preferably with deltas marked).

 It is in the Advanced section.

2010-09-08 06:15:26


Time next try a it give I'll but, post complicated technically and long a for painful downright not if tedious bit a be would it like seems it.  Suggestion interesting very the for thanks, Doug.



2010-09-08 08:28:18

That's great news you bring, jimalakirti, better than we could have wished!