Sometimes an editor needs a speed bump

Ron R. Rodgers | University of Florida

Introduction

Speed Bump is a simple grid broken into two columns and in as many rows as a story has paragraphs. A story to be edited goes into the left-hand column – one paragraph to a row. The student’s editing notes on the story go in the right column. Then, a fully edited version of the story goes below this grid.

Rationale

After many years of working with students, reporters and editors, I concluded that many of the problems with editing copy stems not from the level of the editors’ intellectual wherewithal but from what is essentially intellectual laziness. In other words, they have a solid skills set, but they fail to focus word by word and line by line. Instead, I find, they edit as they read, often eliding over what would be obvious if they just slowed down and focused on the task at hand. Thus, I created this two-column grid. Each row is a speed bump that helps focus the mind on the parts of a story. It does so by forcing the editor to break the story into parts by placing each graph in a separate row. Then it requires the editor to explore each graph and make notes on it in the right-hand column.

Implementation

- Student puts slug of story in top left-hand row and then each paragraph of story goes into subsequent rows.

- Student then focuses on each paragraph and notes in corresponding right-hand column any editing problems – to include problems with grammar; punctuation; AP style; spelling; accuracy; concision; fuzziness in language; and issues of law, ethics, taste, sensitivity, gender, diversity, or other.

- Students are encouraged to talk to one another about any problems with the story just as editors would in a newsroom.

- Student then places an edited version of story under the grid.

Impact

I have found that this Speed Bump exercise, which I do not use for every story during the semester, forces students to think more deeply about the text they are editing. This is reflected in the comments they make in the right-hand column. I have not measured this quantitatively – but anecdotally I have seen an improvement in the quality of their editing. For example, since I have begun doing this I have seen a dramatic drop-off in students’ missing inconsistent spellings of names and other proper nouns. Also, I have seen fewer headlines unsupported by the text. The grid has also been a good way to discuss issues in a story – both one-to-one and as a class when I put a grid or two up on the screen.

You'll find an example of the exercise as a PDF download to the left, under Resources.

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