Let us get it clear.

As someone who has been editing for more years than she cares to remember, nothing infuriates me more than picking up a copy and not understanding what the story is all about. I feel offended.

For me, the bottom line is clarity — of thought, idea and the peg of the story. Once this is crystal clear, everything else that falls into place — the language, style, imagery, vocabulary, wit…

Here is what I do to avoid sounding vague and silly:

  • Write the peg/core/thought of the story on top of the page in the simplest words possible.

  • Write down the points I want to incorporate to support my story.

  • Write in a way that even the reader not connected at all with the subject I am writing about, will take something away from it.

  • I write and rewrite sentences so that there is no ambiguity in it. I hate it if something I write is misinterpreted only because I was not careful enough to be clear.

  • If it is a story that has a lot of data, I ensure each number and data ‘speaks’. It is there for a purpose and I will explain that purpose.

  • If there are facts that I am using, I quote the source from where I have taken the fact. For example, if I am writing a story on paddy and I say the Minimum Support Price is Rs 1, 800 a quintal, I will also tell you I got that figure from the Agriculture Ministry’s website. Just so you know that I did not manufacture that figure in my head. This kind of backing up of data and facts with their sources enhances a story and strengthens it.

  • If someone has used words I wish I had, even if I am itching to pass them off as my own, I don’t. I say where they came from.

  • As writers please know what plagiarism is. It is a crime, one can be sued and it speaks very poorly of the writer’s integrity if she has just cut/pasted stuff from someone else’s work. If I must use matter from someone else’s work, I give that person credit for that sentence, paragraph or data…

There are some simple things that can elevate copy, I have learnt over the years. Simple, simple, things. More about that in my next…  

Written by: Pankaja Srinivasan is a Coimbatore-based reporter editor with more than 30 years experience working across publications, including, Eve’s Weekly, Indian Express, Newstime, Deccan Chronicle, India Today and The Hindu. She retired from The Hindu in June this year as a senior deputy editor after nearly 15 years.