Tag Archive for: editing

How to edit articles about Black people

Most investment writers rarely discuss race. However, I have the privilege of editing articles related to race—and advocating for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion—in my role as editor of the monthly magazine of an association of financial advisors. This has raised issues for me as an editor when reviewing articles mentioning Black people. At the most mundane level, these are small issues of capitalization and word choice. However, they feed into larger issues of how Black people are treated and perceived. The right choices are “a simple and long-overdue signal of respect for the shared identity, history, and experiences of people who identify as Black,” as discussed in “Recognizing that words have the power to harm, we commit to using more just language to describe places” on the Brookings Institution’s website.

Capitalizing Black

For years, I didn’t capitalize black when referring to race. However, last year I noticed more and more publications using an initial capital in this situation. Even AP style agreed with this change, writing:

AP’s style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person. AP style will continue to lowercase the term white in racial, ethnic and cultural senses.

This raised a more sensitive question about whether to capitalize White in the racial sense. The magazine decided to adopt initial capitals for White, for reasons I explained in “Words matter, especially for diversity.”

Black or African American?

When the term African American appeared in an article, I did a bit of research because I’ve heard that not all Black Americans embrace that term. The National Association of Black Journalists’ style guide entry for “African American” says:

Not all Black people are African Americans (if they were born outside of the United States). Let a subject’s preference determine which term to use. In a story in which race is relevant and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, use black because it is an accurate description of race. Be as specific as possible in honoring preferences, as in Haitian American, Jamaican American or (for a non-U.S. citizen living in the United States) Jamaican living in America.

AP style agrees:

African American is also acceptable for those in the U.S. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow an individual’s preference if known, and be specific when possible and relevant. Minneapolis has a large Somali American population because of refugee resettlement. The author is Senegalese American.

Accordingly, I’m asking my authors who identify someone as African American to confirm that’s how the individual prefers to be identified.

More vocabulary choices

Slaves or enslaved people?

Should you refer to slaves or enslaved people? I wasn’t even aware of this issue until my assistant editor mentioned it.

AP style allows for either term, saying:

The term slaves denotes an inherent identity of a person or people treated as chattel or property. The term enslaved people underlines that the slave status has been imposed on individuals. Many prefer the term enslaved person/people to separate people’s identity from their circumstances. Others prefer the term slave as a way to make a point of the circumstances. Either term is acceptable. Try to determine an individual’s preference.

One lesson that sticks with me from diversity training years ago is that people with disabilities are more than their disabilities. The trainers told me that I should refer to “people with disabilities” rather than “the disabled.” (However, some individuals with disabilities disagree, as discussed in “It’s Perfectly OK To Call A Disabled Person ‘Disabled,’ And Here’s Why” and “Disabled vs disability. Which is right?

Avoid Black as a standalone

A similar line of reasoning suggests avoiding referring to Black as a standalone term, but instead using Black as an adjective. For example, the UofSC Aiken’s “Inclusive Language Guide” (PDF), suggests “Refer to groups as black students, black faculty members, etc., not blacks.”

Try a sensitivity reader?

Writing inclusively and sensitively isn’t just a matter of individual word choices. That’s why some authors—especially book authors—have chosen to hire editors who are called “sensitivity readers.” One sensitivity reader sees her job as “first and foremost to improve the literary quality of a book by steering the author away from one-dimensional portraits and clichés,” as described in “What the Job of a Sensitivity Reader Is Really Like,” a Vulture article. The sensitivity reader said, “Most people are shocked by the blind spots they discover.”

For a journalist’s perspective, read “Gut Check: Working with a Sensitivity Reader” by Jane Hu, which suggests to me that sensitivity readers aren’t just for book-length manuscripts. You may be able to hire someone to work on short pieces of writing. Even getting one article reviewed could open your eyes to issues to look for across all of your communications. Hu’s article also suggests how you can find a sensitivity reader.

The Progressive Style Guide advises,

Avoid vocabulary that extends negative racial, ethnic, or cultural connotations and avoid usage that carries hierarchical valuation or portrays groups of people as inferior, bad, criminal, or less valued than others. At times, such language may be difficult to perceive from the point of view of an oppressor group. Don’t assume you know all the ways that a phrasing may land; take the time to check it out with others.

A sensitivity reader may be more than you can manage for your firm’s newsletter or a blog post. However, it’s always a good idea to get a second set of eyes on your writing, as I’ve often suggested on my blog. When it comes to questions of race, it’s especially helpful to have a reader of the race you’re discussing. However, be wary of overburdening that individual with solving your problems.

Here’s my blog post about working with a sensitivity reader.

Resources to help you edit writing about Black people

My go-to resources

Online tools

  • Alexjs.com is an online tool with the goal of helping you “catch insensitive, inconsiderate writing,” which I learned about in NAPFA’s Diversity + Inclusion Toolkit. Supposedly you can install it in a browser like Google Chrome, but I found it easier to scroll down to the “Demo” section, copy-paste my text into the black box, and then look to see which words Alex highlighted and why. In some cases, Alex suggests replacement vocabulary, such as primary/replica for the computer term master/slave. In other cases, Alex simply alerts you that your word or phrase may be insensitive or “profane.” At this point, Alex doesn’t understand the context of your writing well enough to be decisive in its judgment.
  • PerfectIt proofreading software, which I use to check for errors of consistency and grammar in my writing, has a feature that lets you flag words as sensitive and suggest replacements. The company explains its approach in “The Efficient Editor: How to Write and Edit With Sensitivity.”
  • Microsoft Word apparently is addressing inclusive language, including racial bias, in its version available to Microsoft 365 subscribers, according to How-To Geek‘s “How to Check for Inclusive Language in Microsoft Word.” Thank you, Sonya Dreizler, for alerting me to this!

More resources

Let’s use the right words!

Let’s use words that show respect for Black people. As writers and editors, this is one small way that we can contribute to racial equity.

Of course, even picking the right words doesn’t guarantee that an article will be accurate or appropriate. There might be bigger issues with how the writer approaches the topic. There is a lot more to think about. However, this article is my attempt to share some practical tips from my experience.


NOTE: I updated this post on March 23, 2021, to add a new resource.

Cutting words is writing

If you’re like me, your first drafts aren’t perfect. As part of your editing, you may need to cut words.

I like what Joe Moran says about cutting words in First You Write a Sentence:

…cutting words is also writing. We make meaning not just by adding words but by taking them away.

Moreover, he says:

Michelangelo said that David was hidden in that rough block of marble all along. The art of it was freeing the body from within by removing the superfluous stone. All that sculptures flawless detail—the tensed neck, the bulging veins on the hands, the twist of the torso and the curve of the hips so frugally conveying that a moment of repose is about to turn into action—was made only by gouging out, flaking off and chipping away. Cutting words has this same creative quality. It seems to liberate a meaning that the writer was not aware of but was waiting there to be found. Distilling prose, like boiling down a sauce, releases its real flavor and its true essence.


Think of Moran’s words—and Michelangelo’s art—the next time you hesitate to cut words. They should make your task easier.

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Managing magazine articles

As you may know, I edit a monthly magazine for financial advisors. I’m typically juggling tasks for several issues of the magazine at one time. In case you’re struggling with a similar project—for example, managing a multi-contributor blog—I’m sharing my checklist for each issue of the magazine.

I create a checklist that lists all of the articles in the left-hand column, and all of the steps that an article can go through across the top.

Here’s an image of the top of my checklist. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Monthly Checklist

Here’s what each column means.

  • Word count” is in the second column because length affects how many articles I can squeeze into one issue.
  • The “author” column tracks whether I’ve sent an article to the writer for clarification. You’ll notice there are two columns labeled “author.” I sometimes contact authors before sending an article to my assistant editor to review. I typically send articles to the authors after my assistant editor has reviewed them in addition to me. Unless our changes are minimal, I give authors a chance to check that our edits haven’t introduced inaccuracies into the articles.
  • The “assistant editor” column tracks if I’ve put the article in my email outbox to wait until I’ve collected enough to send them to my assistant editor for review.
  • I don’t always have time to “read aloud,” as mentioned in the sixth column, but it’s a great way to find mistakes that our eyes often gloss over. It’s a technique that I discuss in “Why I love Adobe Acrobat Pro for proofreading” (note that I now use the text-to-speech feature in Microsoft Word instead of converting to Acrobat).
  • Spell check” refers not only to the spell-checking feature of Microsoft Word, but also to the tools I mention in “My three main software tools for proofreading.”
  • The “NOTES” column I make notes for the person who oversees the magazine’s production.


I hope you find this table helpful in managing an important process in your work life.

Word and phrase substitutions for economical writers

Do you edit a printed copy of your draft?

“At least one set of edits should be made on the printed page, pen in hand,” say Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. They favor working on a hard copy because “some failings–for example, a missing connection in argument or undue length–are more easily spotted in hard copy.”

My approach to editing

While I tend to edit short pieces on my PC, I agree with printing out longer pieces. My white papers usually get printed out at least twice. I think that editing on paper is better for longer pieces because it slows me down and forces me to consider the piece as a whole before I actually enter my changes into the document.

Please answer my one-question poll

What about you? Please answer my one-question poll. Do you do all of your editing on your computer, or do you sometimes edit a hard copy?

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

How to edit your financial firm’s bios

Your employees are one of your financial firm’s greatest assets. But poorly written biographies make it difficult for your audience to understand the breadth and depth of your firm’s expertise. When you streamline and standardize your financial firm’s bios, your bios’ readers will benefit. Happy readers mean happier clients and prospects.

I’m writing this article for financial marketers, whether you’re a member of a marketing department or a member of a small investment, wealth management, or financial planning firm who wears a marketing hat in addition to offering your financial expertise. These are my best suggestions for a process you can follow.

How to edit your financial firm's bios infographic

Step 1. Identify why you want to edit your financial firm’s bios

edit financial firm biosYou can edit better when you know the purpose of your work. At one extreme, are you merely proofreading for big errors so you’re not embarrassed by someone’s title being spelled as “manger” instead of “manager” or are you looking to change the tone and content of your bios?

Here’s a list of some other goals you may pursue. You can pick from this list to give better guidance to your editor when you hire someone to work on bios.

  1. Make your bios more focused on clients by describing how clients benefit from the employee’s work, instead of emphasizing the employee’s skills and credentials. This kind of bio draws in clients and prospects because it’s more than a dry recitation of credentials. However, credentials are an important part of establishing credibility.
  2. Shift from last names to first names or vice versa. Today bios tend toward greater informality. If I were a corporate employee, my bio might call me “Susan” instead of “Ms. Weiner.” On a similar note, more bios are written in the first person. When I redid my website in 2015, I changed my biographical references to say “I” instead of “Weiner.”
  3. Add more personality. Bios are changing as “authenticity,” or trying to show that there’s a real person behind the marketing, becomes more important. You’ll find more folksy or quirky language and more mention of the employees’ passions and interests. This is particularly helpful if the employees have good stories about why they chose a career in financial services. However, it can become labored and phony if the stories are weak.
  4. Make your biographical format more consistent. If your bios have been written by different people over time, they may cover different information and use different writing styles. This inconsistency makes it harder for readers to find the information they need or to compare your employees’ roles and backgrounds. For example, some bios may start with how the employees help clients vs. others that emphasize the employees’ credentials vs. others that start with the employees’ prior experience. Others may be written in a flowery style, while some adopt a lean style. Some may consist of a few bullet points vs. others that use long paragraphs. Another form of consistency is to balance personal branding vs. the firm’s marketing goal, as writer and professional service marketer Meg Charendoff reminded me when I discussed this post with her. You want to support and promote your financial professionals, but you also need consistent messaging about people in specific roles and groups.
  5. Fix bad writing. Mistakes sneak into bios. Eliminate typos, bad grammar, and other weaknesses with thorough editing.

Depending on your goals, you may take a more or less radical approach to editing your financial firm’s bios. For example, if you pick goal #1, you’ll need to create new templates for your bios. If goal #5 is your top priority, you’ll edit with a lighter hand.

Step 2. Review a few bios to get a sense of your challenges

The first step for you—or your writer, if you delegate the work of editing your financial firm’s bios—is to review several bios. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are common components that repeat so you’ll want to standardize how you treat them?

If you outsource this step to a writer, ask the writer for his or her assessment of what needs to be changed.

Step 3. Create templates—or at least a style sheet

If you plan to make major changes to your financial firm’s bios, you’ll benefit from creating templates for each distinct type of position in your firm. Your template will be written like a model bio, specifying what’s included and in what detail.

Although there should be some consistency across all bios, there will be differences. For example, you may go into details about previous positions held by senior executives. Such experience is less relevant or available for entry-level employees.

No matter what approach you take to editing your firm’s bios, you need a style sheet. If your firm already has a style sheet for its communications, you’re ahead of the game. Share your style sheet with your writer, if you outsource.

In addition to matters of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, you should consider what content to include (and omit). Here are some of the issues (in alphabetical order) that you’ll need to decide:

  • Bullet points vs. narrative—when will you use bullet points instead of narrative to break up the flow of information in the bios? For example, when I edited bios that appeared as PowerPoint pages in a client’s pitch books, I converted their educational experience from narrative to bullet points that started with the name of the college or university. This trimmed the word count and made it easy for readers to see if they recognized the name of the employee’s alma mater.
  • Capitalization—when will you capitalize titles and other words? Technically speaking, you should only capitalize titles when they precede the holder’s name. You should write “President Weiner,” but “Weiner, the president.” This rule is broken more often than not in financial services. However, you must draw the line somewhere. Avoid using capitals simply to make a word look important. Don’t write that “We offer Investment Management and Financial Planning.”
  • Commas—will you use the serial comma or not? I’m personally a fan of the serial comma. However, the main thing is to pick a style and stick with it.
  • Details on employeesthere’s a long list of questions you’ll need to answer to make your bios consistent in terms of details. You may not identify all of the issues until you’ve made one pass at editing all of the bios. Where do you draw the line between considering something relevant or not? Will you include any of the items listed below? Remember, there’s a limit to how much your clients, prospects, and referral sources are willing to read.
    • College majors and honors
    • Previous employment—how much detail will you go into? Will it vary according to seniority or relevance to the current job?
    • Outside affiliations, such as board memberships or volunteer work—must they be current to be included? Which organizations are worthy of mention, especially when the employee is not in a leadership role? On the other hand, employees’ outside affiliations give insights into who they are as people.
    • Awards—must they be relevant to the job or to your local community to be included?
    • Publications—what makes the cut for inclusion? Does it have to be a national publication or a publication in your field? Or can a personal blog qualify?
    • Social media profiles—will you link to your employees’ social media profiles? Connecting with clients and prospects, especially on LinkedIn, could pay off.
    • Speeches—speeches can help to establish an employee’s authority.
  • Job descriptions—is it possible to standardize descriptions by title? If so, it will be clear to your readers when two employees perform comparable jobs.
  • Names—will you include nicknames? What about middle initials, which are often important in distinguishing between people who share common names?
  • Non-degree education—certificate programs abound in financial services so you need policies on whether to include them and on how to write about them. I’ve found it particularly hard to figure out how to refer to non-degree programs that no longer exist. Also, employees may not be consistent in what they call the programs in their resumes or bios.
  • Professional designations—which professional designations will you highlight by having them appear after the employee’s name? Which designations will you omit as irrelevant? Will you include designations or licenses that are no longer current or that haven’t been formally awarded? In some cases, the professional organization that awards the designation may have rules against its use if the credential hasn’t been formally awarded.
  • Spelling—how will you spell words that have variants? For example, will you write “financial modeling” or “financial modelling”? Will you show bachelor’s degrees as “BA,” “B.A.,” or “bachelor’s degree”?
  • States—will you spell out the names of states, such as Massachusetts, in full? Or, will you use U.S. post office abbreviations (MA) or traditional abbreviations (Mass.)?
  • Word count limits—you can’t write a book about each employee. Plus, you may have word count limits imposed by the layout of your website, pitch book, or other place where you showcase your employees’ expertise.
  • Years of experience—listing years of experience, such as “five years with XYZ Financial” or “10 years of investment management experience,” means you’ll need to update bios annually. That can be a royal pain. At best, it’s annual busywork. Consider referring to “experience since 2010” or whatever the year might be so your bios will always be current. Another issue: Will you omit years of experience if the number is too low or will you abbreviate to “more than 20 years of experience” if you don’t want your employees to seem too old?

Step 4. Edit a few bios and get them reviewed

You or your writer should edit a few bios and run them by your decision makers. This will allow you to see if you’re on the right track. It’s easier to adjust early in the process than to rewrite many bios later.

Before you begin editing your financial firm’s bios you should figure out who needs to approve their approach and content. If you’re lucky, you won’t have a huge committee with conflicting opinions. The big picture questions about your approach to bios should be decided by a select few.

For tips on managing the review process with a large group, see “7 ways to manage writing by committee.”

Step 5. Refine your templates or style guidelines

Use the information you learned in Step 4 to refine your templates or style guidelines.

Step 6. Finish editing your financial firm’s bios

Use your updated templates or style guidelines to finish editing your financial firm’s bios. Then you can start the approval process.

At a minimum, you should run each employee’s bio by her or him to check for accuracy, before getting a compliance review of the bios. Give employees firm deadlines to avoid procrastinators.

Step 7. Keep bios consistent and up-to-date with a process

Bios should be reviewed annually for accuracy and to reflect changes to your templates.

To keep bios accurate and consistent, it’s best to have one official source where users retrieve them. You’ll also benefit from a well-defined process for making changes when the bio changes between annual reviews. Give employees the name of someone to contact with updates. Give the contact person a process to follow for the review, approval, and implementation of changes. Otherwise, you’ll end up with different versions in different places. For example, an individual’s bio in a pitch book may not be consistent with that person’s bio on the website. Later, in your annual review, you may unwittingly start with a bio that doesn’t reflect the latest information.

It may be necessary to tailor bios for specific purposes, such as a short bio accompanying an article. However, those specialized bios should be drawn from the official bio. If you have multiple “official” bios, you run the risk that someone will use a bio that doesn’t conform with your templates and style guidelines.

As Charendoff says, “The review and revision project is not the end, but the beginning of the process of maintaining effective bios.”

Good luck!

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Cut off its head!”—An editing tip

When editing your first draft, consider cutting off its head, in the sense suggested by Kenneth Atchity in A Writer’s Time: A Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision. Here’s what Atchity says:

When you clean a fish, the first thing that goes is the head. Generally manuscripts should receive the same treatment.

Atchity is suggesting that you throw out the beginning of your manuscript. Why? Because writers are often just “warming up” when they start writing. This may take the form of “overly long introductions that give the reader no credit for being able to figure out perspective or content,” says Atchity.

In financial services documents, I see introductions that go on and on about theories or processes without telling readers why they should care about the topic.

If you have a white paper or other document that doesn’t flow well, ask if you should cut off its head.

The “Be” test for writers

“To be or not to be” is one of the most famous phrases in the English language, thanks to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Despite that line’s power, forms of “be” often indicate weak writing.

To raise the impact of your writing, go on a search-and-destroy mission for forms of “to be.”

For example, change “Our firm is using an algorithm” to “Our firm uses an algorithm.” As this example suggests, searching for “ing” will highlight text that will benefit from edits.


Image courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Why hire a writer? Three powerful reasons

You can write. You know your company, products, and services better than anyone else. You may even be a great writer. So why should you hire a freelance writer instead of writing your own article, white paper, or other piece?

1. Your project will be completed on time

You’ve got lots of work to do. Writing keeps getting pushed to the back of the line. A writer who understands the importance of deadlines will give you a realistic schedule and complete your project on time.

2. Your topic will be explained clearly

Experts like you often suffer from the curse of knowledge, a term I first encountered in Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s hard for you to explain things to outsiders because you know too much. You may get bogged down in details before you tell readers why they should care about your topic.

A writer can tackle your topic from the perspective of an outsider. Journalistic skills help the writer draw out the right information when they interview you.

3. Your piece will be easy to read

Writing isn’t your focus. Despite your talent, you lack the time to edit and proofread carefully. When you reserve your energy for editing and proofreading your professional writer, you’re bound to get better results.


Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wise words for writers from “Alpha Better Juice”

Rereading your drafts results in better writing. That’s the bottom line of the following quote from Roy Blount Jr.’s Alpha Better Juice or, the Joy of Text:

The web is a wondrous thing…, but so many people who publish things on it seem not be aware of that heretofore traditional stage of composition that involves reading over what you have written before you present it to the world. That’s one of the key advantages of writing as opposed to chatting: you can look at what you wrote and see whether it makes sense to, for starters, yourself, in which case it might make sense to somebody else.


I know it’s tempting to hit “publish” or” send” as soon as you finish a blog post draft or email. I’ve done that many times myself. But next time you finish a draft, please pause to reread it. There’s often one little thing you can tweak to improve the odds that your communication will achieve its goal.