Six Rs Of Subbing

by Nirmaldasan

Sub-editors know the news values of timeliness, prominence, proximity, conflict and human interest. They also know that hard news should always be written in the inverted pyramid form and answer the 5Ws and 1H (who, what, when, where, why and how). An understanding of news values and structure is no doubt essential for tackling copy, but what is equally important is the six Rs -- 1. read 2. remove 3. rectify 4. replace 5. rewrite and 6. revise. Not all copies may be so bad as to require the six Rs; some may be so very good that the first R would be more than enough. Let's deal with each R separately though most of the Rs will have to be done together by the sub.


Subs pressed for time usually skip the first R. But it is always advisable to commence the subbing process with the first R. A casual reading of the news story would give the sub an understanding about the copy's merits and faults. The sub is then better equipped to correct errors in content, grammar and house style.


A good story is told with just nouns and verbs. But this is not always possible. Adjectives, adverbs and other parts of speech are also required. Remove every word/phrase/sentence that is superfluous. Scrutinise every adjective and adverb. Remove sentences that are biased or libelous or in bad taste. Paragraphs that are optional may be removed if the story exceeds the required length.


Rectify factual errors, wrong spelling and grammatical mistakes. Keep an eye for misspelt names and wrong dates. Always consult reference books such as the dictionary, Who's Who, the encyclopaedia and the atlas. The third R should also take care of punctuation, usage and house style.


Replace unfamiliar words with the familiar; the long with the short; and the ambiguous with the precise. Misplaced phrases have to be re-placed. Paragraphs can also be rearranged to make the story coherent.


It is the job of writers and not subs to rewrite stories. In fact every great writer is a great rewriter. However, the sub may rewrite for the following reasons: 1. Merging different stories on the same subject; 2. Condensing story for want of space; and 3. Highlighting the news point. But it is always better to consult the writer/reporter about the fifth R.


Subs tend to skip the sixth R for want of time or inclination. But the subbing process is not complete till the sub has revised the edited version of the copy. Just read the story once again and check whether the changes made to the copy are warranted. Moreover, it is a fact that the more errors you detect, the less alert you would be. It is only human to miss out on errors. So the sixth R is a must.

(presented at the Indian Institute Of Publishing on May 17, 2003)

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