Magazine Editing 101

The Evangelical Press Association, Orlando, May 2006

Presenter: Sandra Glahn


Most of writing is re-writing.

  Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.


Select a style manual.


  • Do you place commas in a series here, here, and here, or here, here and here?

         Is it biblical or Biblical? Is it scripture or Scripture?

         Are pronouns for God His or his?

         Is it PhD or Ph.D.?

         NIV or N.I.V.?

         Jesus’ name or Jesus’s name?

         What version of the Bible will you use? Will you limit yourself to one?


DTS began with a sampling of ten EPA publications; six were educational institutions.

         Six used AP style, or a variation of it.

         Four used Chicago Manual of Style.

         We selected Chicago for our magazine, but use AP for everything else.

         Most popular-market mags use Chicago .

         We have a DTS manual that covers the rest.

         Recommended resource:

      The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (Zondervan)


Cutlines: The lines of type under the picture; captions


Headlines/titles, pull quotes, and cutlines are the most-read parts of an article. 

  When you have more than one line of these, keep prepositional phrases together. 



Jesus, the Son of
God is my Lord
and I will praise Him in the
morning and at night.

Jesus, the Son of God
is my Lord
and I will praise Him
in the morning
and at night.

Keep Prepositions Lowercase


No: A Visit With

Howard Hendricks


Yes: A Visit

with Howard Hendricks


In your cutlines…

  • Tell stories.
  • Use san sarif for titles.
  • Use sarif for type.
  • Keep prepositional phrases undivided.


In your headlines/titles

  • Embrace Metaphor
  • Talk to the Reader
  • Put a New Spin on the Familiar
  • Use Alliteration



  • Title: You Don’t Have to Go to Afghanistan
  • Cutline: In a survey of ages at which people became Christians, two out of three said they believed before age eight.  Last year Alex and Jon came to Christ on the playground during the Sunday School hour. Mary Sue Evans, primary coordinator said, “Sometimes the fruit falls right off the tree and into your hands.” Will you pray about helping us reach the next generation? Training provided. Contact Mary Sue at 214-555-1234 for more information.


Pull quotes

  • Pull in the reader.
  • Don’t steal it from the end of the article.


Embrace Metaphor

A mighty fortress is our God. 

Our Father, who art in heaven…

“My life has been a tapestry…”


“The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man.”   

--Ortega y Gassett



Revise cliches:                                              

Build a better mousetrap - No

Build a better mouse - Yes


Churchill saw Cripps (his political opponent) passing by and remarked, “There, but for the grace of God goes God.”


Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever’s right, it won’t get high ratings on prime time.  --Phil Callahan,  Servant Magazine


Silent Night, Holy Cow! --Rev. magazine title for article about the carol being translated into 140 languages



When Using Numbers . . .

Choose “round numbers”

Five Ways to Improve Your Income         

The Ten Commandments of Youth Work             

Or use numbers with associations

The One, Two, Three’s of Teaching

Twelve Steps to Sales Success

Seven Perfect Reasons to Buy 


Ask Questions

They involve the reader.                             

Who Is Jesus? (Article on Gnosticism)

Who Do You Say That I Am? (Article on human/divine nature of Jesus)

Vindicate the Villain? (Article on the Gospel of Judas)

Who Is the Holy Spirit? (Cover story, Charisma)

Crunched for Time?



The Power of Praise

Follow the Faculty

Striving in the Storm

When Sheep Squabble


Engage the Senses


Most underused: taste, smell

Most memory-intensive: smell


“With spring sports in full swing, the smell of fresh-cut grass and the sounds of cheers in stadiums are enough to motivate anyone to get in shape for the season. But do you know the drills necessary for spiritual conditioning?”


Talk to the Reader

Convert “ing” forms 


From:  “Going the Distance”

 To: “Go the Distance”


No: “Taking Charge of Your Diet”

Yes: “Take Charge of Your Diet”



Include Sidebars

One for every three pages of double-spaced copy

Book review




Background information

Professional organizations 


Follow the dollar-bill rule: No more than a dollar bill’s length of copy without something to break it up—subhead, pull quote, sidebar, white space.


Some Formulas for Success


Save the Strongest . . .

…sentence for the end of the paragraph.

…word for the end of the sentence.


No: We want to bring hope to each person.

Yes: We want to bring each person hope.


Use the Active Voice

Passive voice is used to make writing dull. (You inform of action without having to know who did it.)

P.V. dehumanizes writing by eliminating people.

It’s legit to vary or add emphasis, but it saps writing of color, power.

Active Voice

The subject does the action rather than receiving the action.

He trained vs. he was trained.

Passive usually has form of “to be” verb + “-ed.”

She was coerced; they coerced her.

I was awakened; I awoke.

(If you like, watch a video of my lectures in which I further explain my top three writing tips:  Lecture I on Writing for the Periodicals Market  and Lecture II on Writing for the Periodicals Market .)


Use Strong Verbs

Verbs should make up 10 percent of your writing.

Nix forms of “to be.” 

“opposes,” not “is in opposition”

“insisted,” not “was adamant”

Russian, Hebrew allow sentences w/out “is.”

Blessed [is] the man who... (Psa 1)


To “Be” . . . Or Not!

As part of editing, run “search” on be,    is, are, am, was, were.

Exception: “equals”


Avoid Overuse of Couplets

We felt joy and peace.

He is able to guide and protect us.

The hotel has simple and basic accommodations.


Items in a Series: Go for odd numbers

Napoleon Dynamite says,



You guys are retarded. 

This is pretty much the worst video  I’ve ever seen.

I caught you a delicious bass.


Julius Caesar said,

I came, I saw, I conquered.



Dive in. Don’t say you remember. Say what you remember.


No: I remember when I was a kid I flew kites with Dad.


Yes: When I was a kid I flew kites with Dad. 

Convert Stats 

Instead of saying 80 percent of moms return to work when the youngest enters school, say four out of five.

In the two seconds it took you to read this, four women have given birth.                                             

Also, convert dates to years. Rather than “We have supported them since 1992,” say, “We have supported them for the past twelve years.”


Hints for Humor


  • Exaggerate enormously (hyperbole)

         He is older than dirt.

         They’ve attended that church since  before Abram left Ur .

         “I ask you a simple question and you answer starting with Moses.”

         Avoid using exclamation points.

         Save the surprise for the last word.

         If you can save it for the last syllable, all the better.



Aim for gender-neutral language

  • Sometimes you can eliminate gender.
  • If someone smiles, smile back at him.
  • If someone smiles, return the greeting.
  • Avoid using the male singular if it could be male or female.


Use of “them” and “they” is okay,  but be sure to connect with a plural antecedent.

The most common error a person makes while using the English language is when they use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent.


Nix negations, make assertions

The mind takes 48 percent longer to process a negation.

Eliminate no, not, don’t, can’t when possible.

It did not seem possible; it seemed impossible.

She was not happy; she felt unhappy; she frowned.

Don’t shop there; avoid that store.


You’re Outdated if…

You use hyphens - for bullets

You use

Hyphens - for …

M — dashes

N – dashes

You use underlining


You use straight quotes ′ instead of smart quotes ‘’

You use two spaces after a period.   Got it?


Common Mistakes Editors Miss

Subject-verb agreement

Each of the projects is done. (Yes)

If someone smiles, return their greeting. (No)

Pronoun agreement

Who/whom; unclear antecedents



Inside out? 

The period goes inside the quotes, even if it’s just one word:

Pat it and mark it with a “b.”

That is, unless you are publishing in England .

Pat it and mark it with a “b”.


Start a Sentence with “And”?


Dear Mr. Buckley,

   Don’t start a sentence with “and.” In the last paragraph of your column I see this, and apparently the Star-Ledger proofreader did not. (She sleeps a lot.) I am beginning to wonder just how good (or bad) your high school was, and how good (or bad) a student you were. Very truly yours, David Dearborn            


Dear Mr. Dearborn,  

  Verses 2-26 and 28-31, Chapter I, Genesis, all begin with “And.” The King James scholars went to pretty good high schools. Cordially, WFB                                                                                                                                                   

--Buckley: The Right Word, p. 10


Nix Adverbs


“The adverb is the enemy of the verb.”    —Mark Twain


Lose the Christianese

I was at church every time the doors opened.

We bathed it in prayer.

. . . blood of the lamb.

Two hundred went forward.

Born again = believe in Jesus Christ

Christians =  Christ-followers

Winning souls, evangelizing = sharing your faith with others

Invitation = opportunity to make a commitment to Christ

Testify = talk about what God has done

Deacons, elders = church leaders


Avoid Long Stretches

Keep paragraphs short

Average sentence in 1990s North America : 19 words

Aim for 15

Hemingway: Averaged 13.5


Fog Index

If you change master’s-level writing  to the ninth- or tenth-grade level, 111 million adults (nearly five times as many) can read it.

Do so by keeping a low average number  of syllables per word.


There Is/Are . . .

= Weak sentence structure, especially at the beginning of the lede.

“Thing” — weak, too


All’s Well That Ends Well

Overdone endings:

            Quoting a hymn

            Including a poem

            Citing a verse


Come “full circle.”

Wrap the extended metaphor.


Cut Articles Down to Size

Eliminate wordiness.

Nix the word the.    

Delete all modifiers.  

Cut a main point.

Cut a quote.


Can you cut the article but add the info in a sidebar?


Keep Your Creative Edge

Attend workshops, conferences.

Swap publications with other EPA members.


It exposes you to other editors.

It gives you a life outside of the organization.

Take a day of rest and really rest. Read:

Abraham Heschel’s book, The Sabbath.

My interview with Eugene Peterson (on my blog).

Eugene Peterson: That "Good-for-Nothing" Sabbath


 For more on writing, click on the writing menu option on this web site.



New Twists on ’Net Growth

Home is where you hang your @.

The e-mail of the species is deadlier than the mail.

Speak softly and carry a cell phone.

Modulation in all things.

The modem is the message.

What boots up must come down.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to use the ’Net and he won’t bother you for weeks.


Contact us for more info