Copy Editing Checklist

  1. Ledes: News articles do not all have to begin with “summary ledes”; in fact, they shouldn’t be–how boring is that, so try to get away from the standard “On Tuesday, January16th, X happened….”  When possible, use a narrative or descriptive lede.  “Bam, bam, bam” ledes are less common, but can be useful when writing about an issue or trend.  See Purdue’s OWL site for examples of these ledes.  Note that OWL uses different names for the ledes than narrative and descriptive, but you’ll figure it out.
  2. Paragraphing: Either all of your writers have been reading Faulkner, or they (including copy editors) do not have a good grasp of what constitutes a paragraph.  In journalism, paragraphs should be more numerous in order to make the info easier to digest.  A new graf should be started each time the subject changes or someone else is speaking.  Check out this quick and easy reference for a crash course:
  3. The dash: A dash is made up of two hyphens, not one.  So this — not this –  That might seem picky, but a hyphen means something very different.
  4. Commas:  A comma must be used after introductory elements, like “Last fall,…” “In 2010, ”  “In the past four years,” etc.  Commas must also be used to connect two independent clauses (a clause that could be a sentence all on its own).  For example, “The vast majority of faculty members are in support of student involvement in extracurricular activities, but they also caution that a balance must be struck between such involvement and academic work.”  Note the comma before the conjunction. “but.”  Recall the other conjunctions: but, nor, for, or, nor, yet, and so.
  5. Fact-checking: Double-check the spelling of names (first and last).  If a person has a title, look up the proper spelling, as well as whether or not the title is capitalized (often this can be figured out by simply Googling the person).  If percentages or stats are cited, make sure that they can be verified.  In general, make sure that the writer is not making any unfair or unfounded assumptions or is using biased language.
  6. Headlines: Headlines also fall under the authority of copy-editors.  They should focus on what happened–the action–and so a particular noun (Who?) and strong verb (Did what?) is preferred.  Here’s some helpful rules of thumb for headlines: