The Compulsive Editor

Excerpt from The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists by Arthur Plotnik (Macmillan, 1982)

Signs of a Dysfunctional (Editor-Related) Compulsiveness

  • Holding to favorite rules of usage, whatever the effect on communication
  • Musing for fifteen minutes on whether to use a hairline or one-point rule
  • Changing every passive construction to an active one
  • Concentrating on negative rather than positive space in layout

Signs of Functional (Reader-Oriented) Compulsiveness

  • Following up
  • Rewriting every headline that fails to motivate readership
  • Quadruple-checking of page proofs
  • Staring at type specifications a full ten seconds
  • Reading every word in its final context
  • As soon as one issue is put to bed, insisting that work begin on the next


  1. Arthur Plotnik

    Ouch! As author of THE ELEMENTS OF EDITING, I cringe at some of its outdated (1982) references, such as to “type specifications”( which, as scrawled instructions to a typesetter, had to be dead accurate to avoid another round of typesetting). But I think most editors get the concept: any compulsiveness should be on behalf of the audience, not one’s kooky equilibrium. For example, don’t lose sight of expressiveness in obsessive pursuit of “correctness” or “standard English.’ See my newly revised and expanded ELEMENTS OF EXPRESSION: PUTTING THOUGHTS INTO WORDS. Best to all, Arthur Plotnik

  2. vtrippel

    Thanks for your comment Arthur! I think the basic message still holds true: channel your editing compulsions in a reader-oriented way. Enjoyed reading your book!

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