A Good Editor Saves The Day

I’m an intern this quarter at the Stanford School of Medicine Office of Communication & Public Affairs. Long name, great people. Especially my editor.

I was having the darnedest time with the paragraph order in a news releases. No matter how I tried to structure things, I would lose the poor reader within the first three grafs because the article didn’t explain some concept or term until much lower down. I tried swapping sentenced, moving definitions, putting an explanatory graf farther up, but to make sense of the article the reader had to already know about two distinct ideas.

My editor had a beautifully simple solution: add a short preview graf. She took each of the troublesome concepts, extracted the most basic piece of each, and stuck them together in two sentences right after my lede. In essence, the new graf said: “Hey reader, to make sense of this article you need to know that there are two distinct ideas in play here.”

Sometimes the obvious solution is the best solution. (Though I admit, it wasn’t obvious to me until my editor pointed it out.)

When I read the edited news release, I knew where it was going by the end of the second graf. Instead of throwing the printout down in distgust, I wanted to find out more about the concepts it touched on, ever so invitingly, in that brief transition graf.

So, if there’s something you need the reader to know, tell them. I think this is a great trick, and I plan to keep it in my back pocket for those times when an article covers multiple concepts that don’t lend themselves to purely sequential presentation.

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About szubryd

I come alive when I talk about science. Whether I'm asking about marine ecology or writing about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, I light up. I've found myself vehemently defending evolutionary theory from inside a bathroom stall, sitting at a bar holding the interest of self-proclaimed potheads with an explanation of endogenous cannabanoid receptors, and discussing the causes of eutrophication in streams on a second date (he was a keeper, by the way). It took an astute college mentor and the challenge of reporting about bisphenol A to point me toward science writing as a career. I had a hard time believing I could make a living doing something so interesting, so much more rewarding than listening to marketers pitch the environmental benefits of their latest drain cleaner—the one with "Toxic" on the label. What could be better?
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