John's Jottings

133. Get It Write - July 2017

Posted on July 1, 2017 at 1:45 PM

At the Dewcliffe show, the newly-appointed Editor of the Regional Federation Newsletter had a small stall and was making himself known. He was trying to meet as many officers from as many clubs as he could and persuade them to write short reports about what the clubs were up to and their future plans.

“Your predecessor always mucked up our contributions,” was a common complaint. “Some were so garbled that they were unintelligible,” another person said. “That’s why we don’t send them in very often.”

“I’m determined that all information is relevant and presented in as unambiguous way as possible,” the Editor assured them. To assist the clubs, he provided two sheets of paper. The first was a checklist for information about shows and other events: name of organiser, name, address and postcode of the venue, and so on. There were even sections for public transport details, local car parks and their charges.

“We know what to include,” one indignant show secretary complained. “I find it offensive to be presented with such a sheet. It implies I’m stupid and can’t write in English.”

“If I give one to everybody, then nobody has any excuse to miss out vital information,” the Editor replied. The complainant was not appeased.

To help write reports on activities there was a Style Sheet. This gave instructions on font and size, line length and spacing, gaps between paragraphs, indents, the use of punctuation marks, when to use italics and capital letters, accepted abbreviations, and so on.

“This is going to put a lot of people off,” one chap protested. “Having to keep referring to your Style Sheet will disrupt writers in their lines of thought. Plain stultifying.”

“Write what you like while the inspiration is there,” the Editor suggested. “Then go through and check that each requirement has been met.”

“Haven’t got time for all that palaver,” he was told. “That’s your job, anyway.”

“It’s such a chore having to sub-edit contributions before I can even check grammar and spelling, and then make sure it all flows and makes sense. Would you like to become a sub-editor?” The Editor’s invitation was declined.

“You’re just too fastidious,” he was told. “This is a hobby, not a profession.”

“But if you don’t want your reports garbled, then make sure they are of a high standard to start with, and that they follow the guidance given in the Style Sheet,” the Editor commented. “I’m always delighted when one comes in that doesn’t need to be changed.”

“I’ve seen a professional style guide,” our chairman informed us, when we discussed editorship back at club. “It ran to over fifty pages, with numerous examples: things like lists of hyphenated and non-hyphenated words in common use. Its application meant that publications were consistent: they reinforced the company brand, as one might put it.

“It also showed that the writers and the company respected their readers. They considered them sufficiently important to make sure they got everything right.” And we agreed he’d got a good point there.

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