About KUEditing

What is this site?

KUEditing focuses on my passion for language and journalism, accompanied by essays with my takes on life and anything else that strikes my fancy. Much of the site’s content is light or humorous (or is intended to be) because I find that people are often turned off by the word grammar but can be drawn into grammar with humor and clear examples of why its proper use is important.

In doing this, I draw from everything I read, see or listen to, no matter its form. Often that is newspapers in print or online, but it can include anything from cereal boxes to restaurant menus to billboards to advertisements to product instruction manuals to National Public Radio, to name but a few places. I also rely on submissions from my students, my colleagues and my family.

My aim with this site, as the subtitle suggests, is to emphasize critical thinking, which I see as involving the following areas:

♦ A willingness to challenge and verify information

♦ Skepticism

♦ An understanding of audience

♦ Curiosity

♦ Adaptability

♦ Ethical behavior

♦ Sound judgment

♦ An understanding of significance

♦ An ability to find, analyze and synthesize information

Other areas could certainly fit under the umbrella of critical thinking, but these are the facets that I emphasize in teaching and that I see as central to education.

More concretely, I use the site to draw attention to the importance of using language properly and to foster appreciation for the way language works. Language forms the backbone of nearly all forms of communication, and its misuse, often from ignorance, diminishes not only our clarity of message but our clarity of thought. The world needs – and deserves – clearer thinking and, in turn, clearer writing.

Who am I?

The views on this site reflect my journalistic background, including eight years at The New York Times, and my job as a teacher of editing, writing, innovation and history. I have worked at several other publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Kansas City Times, The Hutchinson News, The Parsons Sun and The Fairbury Journal-News, where I started my career as a photographer.

I am the author of A New Brand of Business (Temple University Press, 2010), as well as several articles and book chapters about the history of audiences, marketing and journalism.

I have taught at the University of Kansas since 2004. I followed a long line of excellent editing teachers, including Paul Jess, John Bremner, Les Polk, Bruce Swain, Tom Eblen and Malcolm Gibson. I have had the privilege of working with most of those fine teachers, and this site is dedicated to them and to the foundation they laid in establishing KU editing as a name worthy of respect.

Why did you change the name of the site?

I started this site under the name Obiter Dicta Online in 2009.

That name (minus the “online”) came from an old Curtis Publishing Company house organ. The term is also used in the courts.

Curtis, which published the Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, defined it this way: “It being a Latin phrase, it is made up of two Latin words: ‘dicta,’ meaning ‘words’ … and ‘obiter,’ meaning ‘we think it’s good stuff but you may do as you like about it.’ ”

My version of Obiter Dicta started as a teaching tool for students in my advanced editing class. In moving it to the Web, I tried to expand its scope and purpose, although many examples still came from the KU student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan.

Although I liked the name Obiter Dicta, many people (understandably) found it obscure. The name kuediting.com is easier to understand and easier to remember. It also reflects the broader scope of the site: Editing really is all about thinking.

My philosophy of grammar and usage

Despite the name change, the site will continue to emphasize grammar and usage. The original subtitle of the site was “Language, humor, life,” and that still holds true.

My approach to language can be summarized in four parts:

1. Clarity comes first. As journalists (and writers of any kind), we must be able to convey information in clear, accessible language that non-experts can understand but that experts will still appreciate. Ambiguity has no place in high-quality writing.

2. Tradition guides us. Language changes, and we should change with it, but not at the expense of clarity. Many long-established rules of grammar, usage and punctuation allow us to write authoritatively and cohesively. Without those rules, we have little to distinguish ourselves from hacks, spammers and writers of toilet-stall drivel.

3. Use your ear. Slice away the tangled phrases and wordy expressions in your prose, but don’t eliminate the beauty of rhythm and cadence. The shortest way to phrase a thought is usually the best way, but not always. Writers need flexibility. Along the same lines, writing should have authority, but it should not sound like one of King George’s proclamations to the plebes on the town green. Our phrasing and sentences need to sound natural and knowledgeable.

4. Consider your audience. Readers, listeners and viewers bring different expectations to each medium, and to each publication, website or broadcast station. What works for one medium may not always work for another. That is not license for sloppiness, though. Our goal, no matter the medium, is to deliver a comprehensible message to a defined audience.

Assistance

Several students have helped me create Obiter Dicta in print and online, including Emily Ryan, Melinda Ricketts, Bryan Dykman and Lauren Keith. Their assistance in matters large and small has been invaluable.

 

Disclaimer

In assembling this site, I make no proclamations of perfection. I’m as vulnerable to anyone to the pressures of haste. So let me know when you see my errors so I can fix them.

This site is hosted by the university, but it does not reflect the views of the university or its administrators.     I also speak only for myself on this site, and all the work here in is © 2009-2011 by Doug Ward.

2 comments

  1. Is your site intended as a place for people to discuss grammar? I just stumbled on it in search results for ‘headline punctuation’.

    There are various topics in grammar I’d appreciate discussing with someone; best would be English teachers, I suspect, since I’m curious what is being taught and approved or disapproved these days.

    A couple examples –

    1. Why do headlines never use ‘&’ to join nouns/names? They always use a comma, as in ‘Developers, ecologists join forces’. Even if there’s room on the line, that headline would never appear as ‘Developers & ecologists…..”

    2. Can a committee of learned folks come up with a new set of gender-neutral words to replace the 3rd person plural reference to a single person? ‘Would someone raise their hand’. – ‘Your spouse can help or hurt you; they are a key part of your financial success or failure.’

    I understand the objection to ‘he / his’ on grounds that the masculine 3rd person is sexist. The common practice of using the plural ‘they / their’ in place of he / his is unsatisfactory, however.

    3. Similar to #2 – Use of a singular verb with a collective noun but plural pronouns to refer to the collective noun. ‘Congress is meeting today. They will vote on the budget.’
    ‘The committee is going over the list. Their decision will be made soon.’
    ‘A group of engineers is invited. They will join us.’

    The British usage is preferable, I think – at least it is consistent; ‘The committee are going over the list; they will decide.’

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