I was watching an old Clarke Gable and Doris Day movie (who would have paired up those two?) entitled “Teacher’s Pet.” Gable was the crusty self-made newspaper editor, who ruled with an iron fist; Doris Day, the teacher who believed journalism should be taught at the college level to include editing and content development. Well, we sure know who won that war. “Sorry, Clarke.”
Early in the movie when asked the basic rule of newspaper copy, Gable’s character says, “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.”
I remember that adage, even though this movie was before my time in newspaper writing/prep and document editing. But the basics of Who, What, When, Where, and sometimes How haven’t changed, nor are these rules restricted to journalism.
Whatever you are writing–fiction, nonfiction, business, promotional, a poem, a song, a letter, or even a journal entry–still needs to follow a planned sequence with a stated theme, subject, or genre; accurate, researched material to explain or verify the theme; and a logical, supported conclusion. It doesn’t matter the length or purpose of the piece: a book, an article, an essay, a short story, a paragraph, even a sentence. It used to be for newspaper articles, at least for the Army, you verified your facts and sources three times. This, too, has been dissolved by researching online with sometimes no credit for the facts and certainly not three verifications.
So why do I use Accuracy, Clarity, and Consistency? I’ve always used these criteria.
1. Accuracy is easy to understand as the first basic rule, but maybe not as easy to achieve. Proofreading and copy editing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typos) is an art and a science. The eye and the mind must be trained to notice discrepancies, or you’ll read right over the errors, the mind assuming it knows what logically should come next, especially if you wrote it or input the data (what we used to call “typing”).
2. Clarity is clearness of thought, appropriateness of format, and sequential, logical organization. In a nutshell, “Does your writing make sense to you? To your readers–your audience? Does it make sense to other people besides your targeted audience?” These questions may have very different answers, which could present some problems or restrict the size of your audience.
3. Consistency is keeping your facts straight; your characters and their names/physical traits/habits/way of speaking straight; your story/event/scene or supporting material the same when mentioned in different areas of your media, but it’s more than that. Does it ring true? Is your fiction based in reality? Could it be realized? Is your dialogue realistic? Is your choice of words consistent with the tone and voice of the writer? Do you prove your point and support your conclusion?
Just some ideas I was thinking about today that I wanted to share. I hope it brings you accuracy, clarity, and consistency in your future writing.
Thank you, Clarke Gable and Doris Day for reminding me how things used to be and how they really haven’t changed. Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy still gets your message across and lets your writing be noticed … in a good way.
Deborah A. Bowman