Reader roadblocks and credibility crushers: just cut the crap

“Cut the Crap: Eliminating Errors from your Pages” was a session led by Lola Burnham of East Illinois University. Being a former copy editor, and a journalist who still loves all things related to style/grammar editing, I was glad a session was offered that circulated around the small errors that are frequently found within the pages of a publication. Many of Burnham’s points were common knowledge, but they are still mistakes that almost every publication faces on a regular basis.

One of Burnham’s points revolved around what she called “reader roadblocks” and “credibility crushers.” According to the session, reader roadblocks simply get in the way of what is trying to be conveyed in a story, and could give the reader a reason to stop reading the story. Credibility crushes are pretty self-explanatory and they can completely ruin a publication. Small errors, even grammatical or stylistic ones, can lead to both of these “public enemies,” as Burnham called them in her speech.

A piece of advice Burnham gave in her session was that it is more important to know what you don’t know. I thought this made a lot of sense because editors, myself included, can get so caught up in critiquing and changing things about others’ work that we sometimes forget about our own weak spots and fail to look out for them. Understanding errors that you know trip you up consistently is vital, as then editors will consciously seek them out and make corrections before it runs to print.

Overall, Burnham’s session was a concise review of the common errors that run rampant in most publications. Other tips she offered include:

  • Make sure at least two pairs of eyes look at every article.
  • Have a “last line of defense” in case something falls through at the last minute.
  • Double check all headlines to make sure they are logically sound, i.e., don’t assign actions to inanimate objects.
  • Headline length and size should correspond to article length.
  • Make sure everyone pictured in a photo is mentioned in the cutline.
  • Give special attention to the little details, such as addresses and dates.
  • Read articles backwards for typos.
-Ashley Fahey
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