Three golden rules for journalists

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, a film about journalism and journalists

1 What’s journalism?

  • Tell readers what they want to know
  • Tell them what they need — but may not want — to know
  • Be engaging and interesting

2 The Charlie Chaplin rule

… or what can readers be expected to know.

  • Most will know of Charlie Chaplin
  • Almost no-one will be able to name the assistant producer of his film Modern Times

3 Include or not include?

  • When in doubt, leave it out

The crucial role of editing and revising copy

Editing an English language document

  The golden rule that says to write is to rewrite is often overlooked. Writing copy is one thing, but to finish the job it will need to be completely reworked; it’s the most important part of the process.

So says author Andrew Kevin Walker, best known as the screenwriter of the US hit Seven (1995).

The fact is all professional writing requires this. From Shakespeare to JK Rowling, any high quality piece of writing would have gone through an invariably rigorous review and editing process.

Copy is checked for precision, clarity, conciseness, intelligibility, coherence and respect for rules of spelling and grammar.

A thorough review and editing process not only improves quality and readability, but also makes the end-product easier to monetise, with the opposite also holding true.

It’s actually impossible for a professional writer to produce content that won’t be improved with third party editing support.

Editing in action

The following bit of text illustrates this well. It’s the first paragraph of the introductory Editor’s Note of a published English-language architecture magazine. Unfortunately, it was neither written nor edited by native English speakers, leading to various errors.

   Going under (1)

Shovel to dirt (2), we head underground to dig up some of the latest innovations in subterranean construction. (3) We offer information (4) on The Lowline, an underground park set to open in N.Y.C. (5), and expand (6) on international (7) projects taking place in Pushing the Boundaries of Underground Construction.

The errors

  1. going under means to go bust.
  2. No need for all the references to digging, shovelling, dirt, etc … reader knows subject is about underground construction because headline says so.
  3. New paragraph needed for clarity.
  4. offer information is more appropriate for something a tourist office does.
  5. No need for full stops between N, Y, C … also reader will know that NYC is New York, the city, unless reference is made in copy to elsewhere in the state of New York.
  6. No need for expand — it’s obvious
  7. international implies a single project happening in more than one country.

   Going underground

Issue #19 sees us heading underground to report on some of the latest innovations in subterranean construction.

We cover The Lowline, an underground park set to open in New York, as well as other projects around the globe in Pushing the Boundaries of Underground Construction.

Pitfalls of online translation tools

Close-up of computer keyboard

For translations, time-saving shortcuts such as free online tools tend to only lead to a mediocre output.

They read badly, invariably contain inaccuracies and give a poor impression.

Moreover, internet robots will often classify online translations as spam.

Automated translations don’t always make sense and could be viewed as spam. More importantly, a poor or artificial-sounding translation can harm your site’s perception.

Lastly, just like any other type of written content, translated text also needs to read well and be engaging. Online translation tools almost never tick this essential box.

Example: 10 words to translate, 6 errors

Une tasse de café
On aime le bon café, serré façon expresso à l’italienne.

Translation suggested by the translation tool

We like good coffee, tight espresso way to Italian.

The errors

  1. We like good coffee — some people do indeed like bad coffee, but what’s needed here is nice and not good.
  2. This translation requires reference to a cup of coffee.
  3. The verb to do is needed to add emphasis.
  4. A tight espresso … as opposed to a loose one? In English, no distinction is made between types of espressos.
  5. It’s not way to Italian, but Italian-style.
  6. The whole sentence needs to be reformulated to maintain the meaning of the original.

Correct translation

We do like a nice cup of coffee — espresso-style just like in Italy.