Test your spidey sense (a Red Pen contest)
I write a lot about the comma-wrangling aspects of copy editing, but the job isn’t just about correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation.
It’s also about reading sentences like the ones below and listening to that little whisper of doubt, the one that says, “Something here is just not right.”
These examples are from the 1990s. That’s old enough, I hope, that their writers won’t recognize their work and be offended. I’m proud to say that most of these didn’t make it into the paper.
1. From a staff-written story: “[Name] of Stafford County, who was on the waiting list for a liver transplant at Fairfax Hospital, was admitted to the hospital Thursday in critical condition and received a kidney transplant on Sunday.”
2. Letter to the editor: “I’m struck by the irony of a women’s conference in Beijing, the only nation that requires couples to have only one child.”
3. Sports wire story: “The Dallas Mavericks’ Jason Kidd outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 18-15 in the pivotal third quarter as Dallas beat the Mavericks.”
4. Staff-written story: “[Name] graduated from John J. Wright High School in the 1960s, before the days of segregation.”
5. Letter to the editor: “To put it simply, soccer has more than 32 billion fans on four continents.”
6. Science news blurb: “There are two kinds of charges: positive (or plus) and negative (or minus). The particles with a positive charge are called electrons.”
7. Wire story: “A Clinton administration plan would give Newport News Shipbuilding the go-ahead to build an aircraft carrier but would end the yard’s nearly 90-year tradition of making nuclear submarines.”
8. Wire story: “A Prince George’s, Md., man was arrested after allegedly stabbing his girlfriend, then turning the gun on himself.”
Take your time. Think about it. Sometime after 5 this evening, I’ll tell you what the copy editors spotted and how the sentences were changed.
AND: There’s a red pen in this for someone.
Here’s what to do:
Tackle any one of the above examples.
Go to the Red Pen blog page on Facebook, here.
“Like” the page if you haven’t already.
A link to this blog will be at the top of the timeline. In a Facebook comment, tell me what you think is wrong with any of these sentences.
After 5 p.m. today (July 9), I’ll select one comment-leaver at random and will send that person an official page-proofing-suitable red pen from the Red Pen blog.
And one more thing…
Here’s a shout to my copy editing colleague George Newman, who made a humdinger of a factual catch one night last week. George saved the paper from days of phone calls and snarky letters to the editor—and saved the story subject some embarrassment as well.
Update: Here’s the link to the post with the answers.