Learn the Secret Language of Editors: Anatomy of an Article

Abigail GreenFreelancers’ Phrase Book
By Abigail Green

To continue a theme from last month, sometimes the “editorialese” that freelance writers encounter can seem like a foreign language. Terms like “head,” “deck,” and “lead”––not to mention their alternate spellings, “hed,” “dek” and “lede”––can leave you scratching your head. So let’s break it down, shall we?

First off, I’ll tackle the spelling. Editorial lore posits that the odd spelling “lede” was adopted when newspaper type was set in lead, to keep from confusing the word for the metal with the word for the beginning sentence of an article. Similarly, “hed” and “dek” jump out at spellcheckers and proofreaders.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about what some of the most common terms mean. I’ll use the traditional spellings.

Lead: The first few lines of an article that introduce the story. Traditional leads use the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why (and how). Study your target market to see what types of leads are used. If articles usually start with anecdotes, use an anecdotal lead in your query or submission.

Head or header: Short for headline––a title or description of a story. Again, study your target market: Are headers short or long? Clever or straightforward? Try to match their style.

Deck: A sentence or few sentences below a headline that summarizes the article.

Subhead: Titles or descriptions that break up different sections of longer features.

Graph: Short for paragraph. A “nut graph” comes after the lead and clearly lays out the point of the article. Think of it like the thesis statement of a term paper.

Call-out or pull-quote: A small selection of text from a longer article pulled out and quoted in a larger typeface.

Sidebar: A shorter, secondary story related to a major one and run at the same time.

Wondering why you should care? Editors regularly use these terms and will assume you know what they mean. Also, freelancers are increasingly expected to supply their own heads and decks. Even if they’re not required, including them in your articles makes editors’ jobs easier––and you look better.

Abigail Green (www.abigailgreen.com) is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 10 years, she has written about health, travel, weddings, business, education and more for national, regional and online publications including AOL, AAA World, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. Her latest project is raising her first child, which she chronicles in her blog: http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com/.

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2 Responses to “Learn the Secret Language of Editors: Anatomy of an Article”


  1. 1 Marijke Durning July 21, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Hi, I just discovered this site, following links from other blogs. I will definitely be back as there is a lot of valuable information here. Thank you for making this available to those us who can use it.


  1. 1 July-Aug WOTR Roundup of Articles by/for Writer Mamas « Writer Mama Riffs on Raising A Writing Career Alongside Your Kids Trackback on August 8, 2007 at 10:19 pm
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