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Editors and Editing

Editing advice from writers and professional editors.

Top 20 Tips From Newspaper Style Guides
A century ago, long before the arrival of "The Associated Press Stylebook," practically every American newspaper had its own style guide--a list of dos and don'ts cobbled together by the paper's quirky and opinionated editor. Surprisingly, perhaps, much of that editing advice still holds up--as shown in these excerpts from five...

Ten Characteristics of a Good Editor
How do you know if your editor is a good one and if the advice you're getting is sound? Try evaluating your editor (or teacher, colleague, or mom) according to the qualities identified by these ten professionals.

Harold Ross on Editing
"Editing," Harold Ross once said, "is the same as quarreling with writers--same thing exactly." In the following excerpts from Thomas Kunkel's "Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker's Harold Ross," we see that for the most part these were lovers' quarrels.

Max Perkins' Advice to a Young Writer
From 1910 until his death in 1947, Scribner's legendary editor Maxwell Perkins nurtured and inspired a host of notable authors, from Ernest Hemingway to Thomas Wolfe. Yet somehow, even near the end of his life, Perkins found time to counsel would-be writers as well.

Ernest Hemingway's Star Style
A reporter for the "Kansas City Star" at the start of his writing career, Ernest Hemingway later described the newspaper's style guide as "the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing." As these excerpts indicate, the rules are still of use to anyone with the will and talent to write well.

An Editor's Five Rules of Thumb
An editor at "The New Yorker" magazine for almost 40 years, Gardner Botsford worked with many notable writers of creative nonfiction. In his memoir "A Life of Privilege, Mostly" (St. Martin's Press, 2003), Botsford offered these "conclusions about editing," with a few good lessons for both teachers and students of writing.

Lillian Ross on Helpful Editors
Try measuring your editor (or teacher or colleague) against Lillian Ross's list of "helpful" qualities.

Wolcott Gibbs's Theory and Practice of Editing
The average writer, said Wolcott Gibbs (1902-1958), "is ornate to no purpose, full of elegant variations, and can be relied upon to use three sentences where a word would do." To combat such tendencies, Gibbs set down 31 rules for the benefit of his "semi-literate" colleagues at "The New Yorker" magazine.

The Editor of the Breakfast Table, by Charles J. Shields
In this article, composed "after making a presentation about writing to high schoolers," biographer Charles J. Shields thanks his father for a gift that long went unappreciated--the gift of editing.

James Thurber on Writing and Editing
Some observations from humorist James Thurber on reading, writing, and editing.

The "Don't List" of Bennett's "New York Herald"
In July 2008, the "New York Herald" was brought back to life as an online newspaper. To mark the event, we're reprinting the "Don't List" prescribed a century ago for the reporters on James Gordon Bennett's popular and controversial newspaper.

William Cullen Bryant's List of Forbidden Words
In 1877, during his long tenure as part owner and editor in chief of the "New York Evening Post," William Cullen Bryant compiled this inventory of forbidden words--an "Index Expurgatorius."

Quiller-Couch's Rough Rules for Combating Jargon
The two main vices of jargon, said Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, are "that it uses circumlocution rather than short straight speech" and "that it habitually chooses vague woolly abstract nouns rather than concrete ones." Fortunately, in lecture five of what he called his "course in First Aid to writing," he offered a few "rough rules" for combating...

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