Part 10 of Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report. Click here for more information and to download all of Playbook for free.
Textual Correctness. It sounds a little bureaucratic, but it’s been an important aspect of journalism since at least the century before last, when someone—maybe P.T. Barnum, maybe Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, maybe someone else—said, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
Textual correctness simply means spelling it right. It means getting the grammar right, using the correct punctuation. And it’s especially important when you’re writing for Bleacher Report, because our live publishing model means that hundreds of readers might see your mistakes—and question your credibility—before a copy editor has a chance to fix them.
Of course Bleacher Report has a copydesk that will, like any professional copydesk, catch most errors but inevitably let a few through, because nobody’s perfect. The best way to lower the odds that one of your errors will get past these grammar goalies is to minimize the number of errors in your copy.
But beyond that, the job of the copydesk is not just to fix mistakes but to put that last level of polish on a piece, to really make it shine. Copy editors don’t have time to make that good sentence great or fine tune that point that might be a bit ambiguous if they’re busy correcting hundreds of basic spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes in every piece. Sloppy writing is a drain on resources and has a ripple effect, depriving other, cleaner stories from getting a thorough review.
When assessing your piece for textual correctness, we don’t require perfection. We look for the most common errors, which we define as spelling errors, plus the following:
- Misplaced or missing words or letters
- Improper use (or non-use) of capitalization
- Confused homophones (e.g. “there” vs. “their”)
- Misplaced or missing apostrophes (e.g. “its” vs. “it’s”)
- Misplaced or missing hyphens (usually in compound modifiers)
- Non-rhetorical sentence fragments
- Run-on sentences and comma splices
- Subject-verb agreement problems
- Pronoun-antecedent agreement problems
- Incoherent syntactical constructions
A comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses, rather than using a semicolon or breaking them into two sentences. Example: “His leg was broken, he wouldn’t play again that year.”
When we talk about “incoherent” syntax, we mean an arrangement of words or phrases that’s so awkward as to obscure the author’s meaning.
Note that these aren’t the only mistakes copy editors look for. They’re the ones evaluators look for. The theory is that this is a representative sample of textual errors. If you’re a sloppy writer, at least some of these mistakes are bound to show up in your copy. If you’re clean by these metrics, it’s a good bet that your writing is pretty clean overall.
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Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report Writers is an 18-part series outlining the metrics and criteria of B/R’s objective Writer Evaluation system. The system complements the subjective assessments made by members of our Editorial Team, which means that a solid evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success with B/R. You can find more information and download the full Playbook for free at this link.
Playbook Table of Contents:
Three story types
News Report Story Angle
News Report Narrative Structure, Information Aggregation
Argumentative Articles: Thesis, Rhetorical Structure, Factual Evidence
Ranked Lists: Ranking Logic
Ranked Lists: Topic, List Composition
Attribution and Hyperlinks
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
B/R Style and Formatting
Common Mistakes: General
Common Mistakes: Three Article Types