Guidelines for writers and sub editors at h2g2

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A series of questions that every sub editor could well ask themselves about each story before he/she drops it wearily on Mark's desk. And don't tell me that no sub has got time to ask themselves questions. Most times he/she has, and then it's often a salutary experience. In any case, it's useful in a quiet moment to go back over stories subbed earlier to see how they stand up to the test. For unless they do stand up, and unless you get the right answers to all the questions, then it's not a well-subbed story. The following rules are taken from a book called The Simple Subs Book. A British journalist named Leslie Sellers wrote the book. At the time he was Production editor of the Daily Mail.

People should also, ideally, follow these rules before submitting their guide entry.

1. ARE THE FACTS RIGHT? Are you absolutely sure that Sir Hugh Munro-Lucas-Tooth, MP, has two hyphens in his name? Are you confident that it's Newcastle-under-Lyrne that has hyphens and Newcastle upon Tyne that doesn't? Was the last Lewisham rail crash really as long ago as 1957 - or was it 1959? Don't look now, but does Pergamon Press have one m or two?

2. ARE THERE ANY LOOSE ENDS? Have you started the reader off on a line of thought and left him dangling there? Is every sequence brought to a proper conclusion? Are there any facts missing which are necessary to a complete story - or, if there are, have you already put inquiries in hand? It's astonishingly easy to miss a vital point unless you check back over your work with that in mind. I remember when I was a young sub on the Daily Telegraph doing a tear-jerking, soul-searing rewrite from 90 pages of a PA court report. Strong men wept all over the building. Congratulations came from the most unexpected quarters. The editor did everything short of giving me a rise. Then the next day the copy-taster took me aside, put a grandfatherly hand on my shoulder, and said: "It was a great job you did - but what was the result of the case?" In my enthusiasm for the musical arrangements I'd dropped the key line in the lyric.

3. IS EVERYTHING CLEAR? Has everything that needs explaining been explained? Will the story mean something to even the dimmest reader? (And there are a lot of dim readers about). I've just been reading a tale about butter oil. What is butter oil? I didn't know when I started and I don't know now, and that's not good enough. What is worse I suspect the sub didn't know and didn't ask. Beware of butter oil and gudgeon pins and hypertension and all their brothers and sisters. Somebody, somewhere, won't know what you're on about unless you explain.

4. DOES IT FLOW LIKE HONEY, or does it stick in the craw? Anything that causes the reader to pause, even momentarily, is bad. The sequence should be perfect, the facts blindly simple. Nothing should be there that jars, or causes the reader to look back to an earlier paragraph.

5. DOES IT MAKE ANY UNNECESSARY DEMANDS ON THE READER? It ought not to. An unexplained reference to Arabs in a story from Aden is an unnecessary demand, because in spite of the barrage of references to Arabs there are still readers who need a phrase, which tells, even vaguely, what an Arab is. Surveys show that most politicians are unknown to most readers, and therefore, idiotic as it may seem, it is necessary to attach their chain of office to them every time they are mentioned.

6. CAN IT BE SIMPLIFIED? If it can be simplified further there is something wrong with it.

The sub/writer may find questions unique to h2g2. If he/she does, good luck to them, and I'd be glad to hear from them. At any rate, let's hope they note these six rules.

Writers please note a lot of GuideML/HTML etc won't improve an entry's chances of approval, and in fact may hinder it. Here's an example of how a page about "Birds and their tuneful songs" will appear for the sub-ed Birdlife in Australia For any aspiring h2g2 subs out there, try subbing that one.

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