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What is a subeditor?*

February 1, 2011

A subeditor’s role is to make sure that magazine (or newspaper) copy reads well and is grammatically correct, with no spelling mistakes or typos. The copy should be consistent and adhere to the individual style of the magazine or newspaper. A subeditor also writes headings/subheadings/intros, rewrites poorly written copy, checks facts (we love writers who provide a detailed sources’ list) and makes sure the copy snugly fits the page design.

Thrilling stuff, huh.

As far as jobs go it isn’t difficult or exciting or about to change the world, but it is skilled, which may surprise some people, because “hey, can’t everybody write?”.

Well, if by writing you mean throwing words on a piece of paper or a computer screen, sure, everyone can do it.

And everyone can sing, too.

But there’s a distinct difference between singing in the shower and singing in front of a packed audience that has paid to see you sing; a marked difference between being able to thoughtlessly scribble words on a page and being able to write something that other people want to read. And can read. And enjoy reading.

The essential role of the subeditor is to watch out for the devil in the detail. Those little things that, as writers, we can miss, because even competent writers make mistakes. I can make the very same mistake I pick up countless times in other people’s work.

I, too, have written ‘your’ when in fact I’ve meant to write ‘you’re’. Oh, the shame.

Generally, however, my copy is clean, because I understand simple grammar rules. One day I might rebel and decide to break the rules.

But, first, let’s find out how much I actually do know.

What do you struggle with when you’re writing? What do you love/hate about writing?

* Also, copyeditor, though I’ve never heard it used in Australia, mostly in the US.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Connie permalink
    February 1, 2011 16:56

    Thanks Rachel. I do understand. I would love to ‘write’ a paper or something really compelling 0 my spelling is poor, my grammar lacking and will continue to read your words of wisdom so that I can recapture the things I learnt all those years ago and now have lost. well done.

  2. February 1, 2011 20:47

    Good article Rach, so much of it rings true with me; love the “everyone can sing” analogy.

  3. February 1, 2011 22:39

    Thanks, Con. What I’m sharing here are very simple tips that anyone can quickly pick up – but even in my professional life I forget things and have to go and look ’em up.

    Merrilyn, you wouldn’t believe how many people have no idea about what I do and believe it’s superfluous. Though, as I mature professionally, so does my clientele. Amen to that.

  4. February 2, 2011 08:28

    Rachel, I am the first to admit that I am not good when it comes to some parts of grammar – there are so many rules that I could never remember them all. I look forward to reading more of your blog – any help I can get with language I will never knock back!
    The site looks great, congratulations!

  5. February 2, 2011 08:30

    By the way, I think you will find you just aren’t going to the right parties if the partygoers don’t think it’s an exciting job!

  6. Jayne Eldred permalink
    February 2, 2011 11:02

    Well written! 😛 and worthwhile thoughts! Over the years of writing (mainly essays), I’ve had to concentrate on learning to say things more simply – I tend to be a bit verbose! I also like exclamation marks a lot!

  7. February 2, 2011 22:10

    Paul, don’t worry, I don’t remember all the rules either, I’m just good at looking ’em up when I need to. And it helps that I have to refer to them often in my professional life. (Though one day I hope to break them, too. Be a rebel like Gertrude Stein.)

    Thanks, Jayne. I’m rather fond of a well placed exclamation mark. Though, most mags really, really hate ’em. Really!

  8. Jannine Eldred permalink
    February 7, 2011 19:01

    Good stuff Rachel (no exclamation mark). U3A has started again for the year, and I bought a new book to inspire me to write more – and better. It’s Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick. Do you know it? His style really speaks to me. Thanks again! (Oops, can’t help it.)

    • February 7, 2011 21:50

      No, I haven’t heard of that book. I have about 20 writing reference books. Just recently I bought Gertrude Stein’s book “On Writing”. Now that’s an out there, trippy read!

  9. February 8, 2011 06:30

    I always have a copy of Stephen King’s “On Writing” nearby and John Humphrys’ “Lost for Words” – which is a great book about “The mangling and manipulation of the English Language.” A handy book to remind me about cliches, grammar and jargon – and their place in language.

    • February 8, 2011 09:22

      I have a copy of Stephen King’s “On Writing”. Haven’t heard of the other book. One of my favourites is Ray Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing”. I’m going to do a blog on reference guides in the next few weeks. How they can help – and hinder.

  10. Leigh robshaw permalink
    February 27, 2011 11:31

    Great post, I liked the singing analogy too. It’s difficult when you have to work with someone who really believes their writing is great when it’s not. Subs also need to develop the art of diplomacy.

    • February 28, 2011 11:10

      Very true, Leigh. We also need to be open to the ever evolving nature of language. There are the rules, of course, yet style also plays a big part, as I’m discovering more and more as I write this blog. Even with something as simple as when to use ‘an’ before a word; I didn’t know that a lot of people are attached to writing ‘an’ before historical. I would have said that is wrong, yet it has a following out there, as I found out this week on Twitter. You have to know who your writer is, where they are from, which audience they want to market to … and, essentially, just be on your toes when it comes to knowing which changes have to be made and which are simply the writer’s style.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting 😀

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