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Issue for April 2018

Best Personality Traits to Look For in Editors

Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 11:50 PM

Considerations for hiring editors or for self-assessing your own on-the-job strengths.

By William Dunkerley

"Write drunk, edit sober" is a quote often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. Some claim he never said that. But the line popped up in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled "Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving." Reading that article led me to reflect on the role of creativity in the jobs of editors.

Creativity is a trait that can be instrumental, if not essential, in many respects. We're often confronted with a manuscript that needs help if it is to make good sense to readers. The ability to come up with a creative solution can be a real asset.

We also employ creativity in setting the editorial menu for each new issue. Many editors write copy for their publications too. Surely creativity comes into play there as well.

I'm not suggesting that we must down a few beers or sip a sherry before embarking on a creative task. But if the HBR premise is correct, perhaps we can we learn something by deconstructing the notion.

Pushing Past Inhibitions

It is widely accepted that one effect of inebriation is a diminishment of inhibitions. That accounts for some of the outlandish behavior often seen in drunks. They behave in ways they would avoid if the normal inhibiting functions in their brains were performing effectively.

Normal acceptable behavior is controlled by what brain scientists refer to as "executive function." It inhibits impulses. Those impulses, though, can be key to creativity. They promote the kind of divergent thinking needed to think outside the box and develop creative ideas and creative solutions.

The HBR article describes an experiment that was conducted by professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and his colleagues. Jarosz reported:

"We gave participants 15 questions from a creative problem-solving assessment called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT: For example, 'What word relates to these three: duck, dollar, fold?'; the answer to which is 'bill.' We found that the tipsy people solved two to three more problems than folks who stayed sober. They also submitted their answers more quickly within the one-minute-per-question time limit, which is maybe even more surprising."

Another testament to the value of relaxed inhibitions comes from the owner of an "escape room" adventure facility. For those not familiar with escape room entertainment, it goes something like this: A group of people are locked together in a room. Clues for finding the key to the door are hidden in various places. Putting the clues together requires creative, nontraditional thinking. In short, getting out of the room depends upon the successful use of outside-the-box thinking.

The owner of that escape room facility claims that children perform better than adults in putting together the clues and making an escape. The adults are burdened by their brain's executive function, something not yet fully developed in children.

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are said also to have underdeveloped executive function. That's what makes them vulnerable to acting on impulses rather than inhibiting them. It may also make them good candidates for editorial jobs requiring an extra measure of creativity.

Assessing Creativity

But the underlying factor is not whether one is a drunk, a child, or an ADHD sufferer. It is whether a person performing a job requiring creativity has an aptitude for it. Professor Jarosz used the Remote Associates Test. There may be other assessment tools available as well. I suggest you make use of some objective measure in assessing job applicants or in testing the related traits of editorial staff members -- or even of yourself.

Editors with low creativity scores are not necessarily out of luck. The aptitude for creativity is malleable to an extent. We've seen that ingesting a relaxing substance can be of value. Others may be able to relax inhibitions through meditation, yoga, or simply engaging in enjoyable conversation with someone.

Creativity emerges when inhibitions recede.

Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking

Keep in mind that creativity and divergent thinking are not necessarily assets for all editorial jobs. Take proofreading, for example. That's a job in which convergent thinking is more useful than divergent thinking. A proofreader's job is to assure that a manuscript or proof copy conforms to rules of spelling, grammar, and style. That's a different skill set.

In practice, many editors must perform tasks that require both divergent and convergent thinking. If you postulate them as opposite poles on a continuum, you may conclude that being good at both is unlikely. Fortunately that is not the case. Think of divergence and convergence as independent controls on a stereo sound system: one for left volume, one for right volume. That means some people can run at high volume on both channels. Others may reflect a different mix.

Dr. Donald P. LaSalle has long been an outspoken proponent of divergent-convergent thinking. He is a noted science educator and Talcott Mountain Science Center founder. The idea is that by combining both approaches you get the best of both. Divergent thinking promotes the exploration of new possibilities that otherwise might be overlooked. Convergent thinking allows you to choose the best way forward and gives focus to getting there.

Put those concepts into action at your publication and you'll have The Compleat Editor.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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"When screening editors for various positions, I have always used a 13-point basics checklist as part of the process. Its key function is as a tie-breaker when several extremely promising finalists are being considered. That list includes (1) on time for interview; (2) first impression; (3) describes possible organized approach to new job; (4) story-telling portfolio; (5) previous longevity; (6) efficient traveler; (7) test score; (8) capable photographer; (9) looks like "somebody"; (10) graphics grasp; (11) related experience; (12) online technical know-how; (13) enthusiasm. Scoring range per factor is 0-3 points. However, it's also possible to apply a wider score range that takes key factors into account." --Howard Rauch, Editorial Solutions, www.editsol.com.

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Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 11:50 PM

How to make the process easier to write, edit, and read when dealing with a topic with multiple and complex subtopics.

By Peter Jacobi

We return to an examination of structure, finding and using one that makes your story take form.

The much-used inverted pyramid or news story structure often won't work: that is, moving from the most important fact in the coverage of a story to the least. Nope, for what you're doing.

The chronology or direct narrative often won't work: that is, telling a story from its origin to conclusion. Nope, for what you're doing.

Sometimes, you must deal with a story that contains multiple aspects, during the writing of which you face a complex task: How do I put these related but distinctly different parts of the project together? It is all one topic, but the elements, the portions, require separate handling.

The answer is a structure, a design, an editorial architecture I call compartmentalization.

It works this way: It compartmentalizes, and it is a glorious and simplifying approach to solving the issue of factual multiplicity within a single topic. Think of it as a way of using division and ordering, of giving the reader pieces within a piece, a number of related items within one whole.

The result will ease your work as writer, your work as editor, and the work of the reader, whose task of reading is thereby both facilitated and made more agreeable, even pleasurable.

Clarify and Organize

Since I'm writing this column in Bloomington, the Indiana version of a shared city name (with Illinois and Minnesota), let me take that town as a subject, say, for a travel publication. You need, in devising a story about Bloomington, first to clarify in your mind the totality of the coverage and approach you plan. And you must create that super-structure which I've written of a number of times: providing a beginning or lead; then a thesis, summarizing what you're writing about; then adding the body, into which you expand on the lead and thesis and explore your topic in your chosen depth; and, finally, offering an end with something you want the reader to remember.

Compartmentalize the Subject

For this column, I'm concerned with part three, the body. That's where you give your readers the package of chosen information in the best, most usable, most understandable, most palatable way. That's where you compartmentalize the subject of Bloomington.

What is Bloomington, you remind yourself. You create a list: a town that deserves its name because of the profusion of blooms from late winter or early spring into late fall; a beautifully designed place at the edge of southern Indiana's hilly region where folks love to cycle and hike and run; a center for shopping and dining (regionally, nationally, and internationally) that easily leads you to the hilly tourist spot of Indiana's little Nashville and Indiana's Columbus, a world-respected architectural showplace; an important home for businesses and conferences; a center for artists and the arts and museums and people from all over the world; and -- of course -- it is home to Indiana University, a major, full-scale educational institution of stature, the academic home for developmental science and technology, for learning in depth and breadth, for anthropology to informatics to zoology, for the arts that enrich not only the varying residents of the campus but all who populate the region we call south-central Indiana and up and down from there, to Indianapolis and Louisville and Chicago.

How, for goodness sake, does one put that together?

You compartmentalize. That's what.

Zoom In on the Lead

You've found an appropriate highlight zooming in on a catchy aspect of Bloomington for your lead. Your thesis introduces the multifaceted nature of the community. And then, in an order of your choosing, you address each of the subjects mentioned above, perhaps in the same order, perhaps otherwise.

Highlight Each Subtopic

But the natural beauty of Bloomington is attended to in a section: the way of life there, the opportunities for visitors to enjoy shopping and dining and making side trips, the cultural high spots in the town, the university and all it has contributed in making Bloomington what it is: a university town. Each subtopic of the topic gets its proper due.

Work with a Plan

The writing of such a piece becomes so much easier if you work with a plan. The editing of such a piece and the placement of it in a publication becomes easier because the writer's compartmentalizing has paved the way for you, as editor, to offer a complementing design, with subheads or other visual pauses. And your reader is more likely to peruse from start to finish, be assured.

Another Compartmentalize Example

Here is another example, in briefer discussion, of a different kind of story. You've attended a four- or five-day conference of significance, during which much of potential reader interest happened. How do you break that up? Again, you compartmentalize.

You might begin your story with an actual portion of the conference, say, the keynote address, handling that as you would a speech story, from most vital point spoken of at the start down to lesser but still includable information. You interrupt the speech coverage pretty close to the top to let your reader know that the conference was goodies-filled and the speech just one of the highlights, then returning to complete the speech coverage.

Then, you remind the reader of what you mentioned above about the scope of the conference, and you write that the conference was generous with a calendar of notable events. That's your bridge to compartmentalization, which might be handled in chronological form or thematic, full-bodied or selective. But in compartments you turn to other highlights about which you believe your readers should be informed.

Again, you've made the process easier in the writing, editing, and reading. Compartmentalization is useful. Use it.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 11:50 PM

In the news: Assessing the readability of a TheAtlantic.com sample.

This month's Fog Index excerpt comes from an April 21 TheAtlantic.com article ("Salad Panic" by James Hamblin). Here's the sample text, with longer words italicized:

"At the moment the utility of this story may be to jolt us out of complacency about the kinds of risks we come to accept as background noise. In just the last few months, influenza has killed 156 kids in the United States. Around 10,000 Americans have been killed already this year in automobile crashes. We're all more likely to be harmed or killed in our cars on the way to the store to buy lettuce than by the lettuce itself. We are all more likely to be harmed by the air pollution caused by driving cars to get the lettuce. Driving cars is a tremendous and serious health risk which most of us could do a lot more to avoid. Push alert."

Word count: 123 words
Average sentence length: 18 words (28, 15, 12, 26, 20, 20, 2)
Words with 3+ syllables: 7 percent (8/123 words)
Fog Index: (18+7) *.4 = 10 (10.0, no rounding)

Our calculations show a Fog Index of 10, well within ideal range. Health reports like this one can get bogged down (or fogged up, as the case may be) with complex vocabulary and dense descriptions. That is not the case here. The author conveys the facts in easy-to-read language, pausing often to allow readers time to process the information. The percentage of longer words is quite low for a 123-word sample.

If we wanted to, we could pare down the Fog Score even more by swapping out a few longer words. But it isn't necessary. Our goal is to bring a sample's Fog score below 12, and this sample already weighs in well below that number. We can learn valuable writing and editing lessons from it. As for romaine lettuce, eat with caution.

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National Geographic Redesign

Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 11:50 PM

In the news: For the first time in nearly 20 years, an iconic magazine revamps its print product to better serve modern readers.

Earlier this month, National Geographic unveiled its newly redesigned print magazine. In addition to design changes that provide "more real estate for visual storytelling" (per Greg Dool of Foliomag.com), the magazine now prints on better paper for a more high-end reading experience.

Perhaps the most radical change is a new front-of-book section. According to Dool, the section is split into three parts: "Proof, short photo essays which the magazine says will highlight 'new, provocative perspectives;' Embark, meant to challenge readers' perspectives on a particular issue ... ; and Explore, adventure-style pieces making heavy use of photography, maps, and other visual elements." But National Geographic isn't completely reinventing itself; despite all the changes to the interior, the iconic cover design will remain. Read more here.

Also Notable

New Paywall at VanityFair.com

As of this week, Vanity Fair has started paywalling its online content. Readers can view three articles per month free, and then a $19.99/year paywall goes up. Two subscription options are available at the same price: digital-only or digital with print edition, reports Lucia Moses of Digiday.com. The paywall, she writes, is similar to the one introduced by Wired.com earlier this year (allowing readers four free articles per month before a $20/year paywall goes up). Read more here.

Plans for News Subscription Service at Apple

Last month, Apple acquired Texture, a digital newsstand. According to an April 17 report by Bloomberg.com's Mark Gurman and Gerry Smith, "Apple Inc. plans to integrate ... Texture into Apple News and debut its own premium subscription offering.... The move is part of a broader push by the iPhone maker to generate more revenue from online content and services." Read more about Apple's plans here.

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