Communications 302 Editing the Written Word syllabus: Emory & Henry College

May 20, 2013 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: teaching journalism.

COM302 Editing the Written Word

Jim Stovall, 217 Miller, 944-6889,

Philosophy and purpose

The development of language skills lies at the heart of our curriculum and is central to what we do in journalism education. Using the language, especially in its written form, is an intellectual activity of the highest order because it involves both thinking and doing. So important are they that they even are included in many a CLEP Study Guide. Other skills, such as gathering information, analyzing it, and putting it into its proper context, are high priorities within our educational scheme, but nothing surpasses the development of language skills.

That is why editing is central to what we teach and why COM302 – because it is required of every mass communications student – is one of the most important courses in the curriculum. Everything we do in this course is relevant to every journalism and mass communications major, regardless of individual talents, career goals or industry preference.

Language skills involve the following: knowledge and application of generally accepted principles and rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation; a broad vocabulary and sensitivity to the precise and subtle meanings of words; a thorough understanding of the principles of clarity, unity, brevity and simplicity; and a commitment to using the language properly to present information accurately. In addition, the student of journalism should understand the importance of all these skills and should find the study and use of language to be inherently interesting.

Our purposes for this course then include the following:

to improve your language skills
to introduce you to the process and thinking of editing in a professional realm
to increase you knowledge in the application of AP style rules
to develop skills associated with editing including photo editing, news judgment, graphics development and layout and design

Subjects covered in the course

Copyediting. Copyediting is the chief way in which language skills are taught and emphasized in this course. Students are given a variety of assignments designed to emphasize style and grammar, word precision, efficiency, clarity, emphasis and news judgment, completeness and accuracy. These are common editing problems that occur in all copy regardless of the medium for which they are intended.

Although this is not a reporting course, students can learn much about editing by working with copy that they have produced and also by working with copy that their colleagues in the class have written. Writing assignments could including having students put together a sidebar for an article they are editing.

Computer skills. We will attempt to work with the software appropriate for the field — Photoshop, the premier photo editing software, and Quark, page layout software.

Headline writing. The task of headline writing requires a high degree of language skills from our students. Headline writing also requires rhythm and practice. Students are required to learn and apply the traditional rules of headline writing and will be introduced to new styles appropriate for magazine and web sites.

General knowledge. Good editing cannot take place unle ss students have knowledge that extends beyond the copy they are trying to edit. Students will be introduced to basic facts and understanding about topics they are likely to find useful. These topics include taxation, public opinion results, stocks and the stock markets, world religions, sports, budgets, general numbers and calculations, computers and applications, and politics and the electoral system. Lectures and handouts on these topics are useful teaching tools, as are guest lectures, Internet searches, papers, and other assignments.

Other topics. Additional topics included in the course are law and First Amendment, photo selection and cropping, the basics of layout and design, and infographics. Students should have an understanding of the First Amendment, libel, privacy and copyright. They should know how to crop and size a photograph (and, of course, how to write an appropriate cutline for its publication). They should know about the basic tools of layout (type, illustration and white space) and the principles of design as outlined in the textbook. They should understand the conventions and uses of the most common types of infographics.

Case studies

We will read and discuss two case studies this semester. One concerns the coverage of the University of Minnesota basketball team by the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1999, when a story in the newspaper resulted in several members of the team being suspended just before the beginning of the NCAA tournament. That case study can be found here. The second case concerns the coverage of Richard Jewell and the Olympic bombing case. Jewell was accused of planting the bomb and then playing the hero when he discovered it. That case can be found here. Students are responsible for reading these cases thoroughly and becoming familiar with the journalistic issues they involve. We will discuss each of these cases in class and a short reaction paper will be required.

Texts: The Complete Editor (Stovall, Mullins); AP Stylebook

Grades will be calculated generally on the following basis:

Major editing assignments ____________40%
Chapter exams _____________________20%
Daily quizzes and editing work ________15%
Participation and attendance __________10%
Final exam (or final project) __________15%

A few rules

1. Don’t be late. There are consequences.
2. Always ask for help, particularly when you’re working at the computer. Don’t let lack of computer knowledge slow you down.
3. No baseball caps during class sessions. The instructor likes to see your beautiful baby blues (or browns or greens). Those choosing to ignore this rule will have a point deducted from their final average for each day they choose to wear the cap (after the first day, of course).
4. Civility at all times. Respect your colleagues. And let’s have some fun.

(tentative, always subject to change)

Week 1 (Jan. 12)
• Importance of editing
• Approaches to editing
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 1
Discussion notes: The responsibilities of the editor
Handout: Dates an editor should know
Handout: Grammar terms

Week 2 (Jan. 17)
• Grammar and style
• Copyediting
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 2
Handout: Rules for using commas
Handout: Glossary of grammar terms
Handout: Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation and Diction Guide

Week 3 (Jan. 24)
• Grammar and style
• Copyediting
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 3
Exam 1: Chapters 1-3

Week 4 (Jan. 31)
• Accuracy
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 4
Discussion notes: Accuracy
Handout: Common editing problems

Week 5 (Feb. 7)
• Brevity, clarity, wordiness
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 4
Discussion notes: Attacking wordiness

Week 6 (Feb. 14)
• Completeness, answering all the questions
Editing for clarity – story 1
Exam 2: Chapters 4-5

Week 7 (Feb. 21)
• Case study: University of Minnesota basketball team
• Headline writing
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 6

Week 8 (Feb. 28)
• Headline writing; summaries

Week 9 (March 7)
• Photo editing
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 7

Spring break (March 10-20)

Week 10 (March 21)
• Infographics
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 8

Week 11 (March 28)
• Infographics
Exam 3: Chapters 6-8

Week 12 (April 4)
• Design principles
Reading: The Complete Editor, Chapter 9
Discussion notes: Design

Week 13 (April 11)
• Design and layout rules

Week 14 (April 18)
• Final project work
Case study: Richard Jewell and the Olympic bombing

Week15 (April 25)
• Project work, presentations, review

Final exam

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