Tag Archives: Editing

Encore! 30 Sites That Will Boost Your Personal History Performance.

How many of you could use some further training to enhance your personal history skills? I know I can!

Whether you’re starting out or well established,  here’s a select list of sites that can help.  I’ve combed the Internet to bring you some of the best…Read more.

How Much Detail Should a Life Story Contain?

That’s the question some of my colleagues at the Association of Personal Historians  have recently been examining.

Some feel that details count because they can enrich a life story by providing a social history context for it. They suggest that what might be tedious to the interviewer could in fact be fascinating to family members now and in the future.

Other personal historians  see a  need to be selective with details, choosing only those that enhance a story – sifting out the chaff and creating a more readable and entertaining narrative.

But the debate about how much detail to include is better settled after thinking through the following questions:

Is this a book or video life story?

In the previous article Book or Video? Which Makes a Better Personal History? I extolled the strengths and weaknesses of both print and video.

Books are more suited to detail than video. Video’s strength is in storytelling, broad strokes, and emotional content.

What’s the budget?

If you want detail,  it’s going to take time and time costs money. Ten or more hours of interview isn’t uncommon for a full life story.

While your client might want their very own version of Gone with the Wind, their budget restrictions point to a more modest affair like Swayed by the Breeze. ;-)

How open and revealing is your storyteller?

Some people  need little prompting to unleash a wealth of detailed stories. Then there are those who are more reticent. No matter how sensitive and clever your questions, you’re lucky to get the bare bones of the person’s life.

What kind of questions are you asking?

The interview is at the core of a comprehensive and entertaining personal history. I’ve written extensively about the art of interviewing in 11 Articles on Interviewing .

If you want to get the stories behind a life,  avoid questions that focus exclusively on names, dates, and places. Instead, use open-ended questions that begin with How, Where, When, What, and Why. And don’t read from a series of scripted questions. Make sure to go deeper with prompts like “And then what happened?”


I believe that details can enrich a life story. Ultimately though, we’re  hired as professionals to edit and weave those details into a coherent and engaging story.

Photo by Chris Beckett

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

To get your week started, this Monday’s Link Roundup has a little something for everyone. For the technology inclined, check out Edit Photos In the Cloud and The DV Show. For nostalgia buffs, don’t miss One Big Collection of 300 Vintage TV Ads.  It’s fabulous! If you love typography, you’ll love 10 Essential Books on Typography.  Do you like to tidy up loose ends? Then Wake-up Call: Write Your Obituary may be just what the doctor ordered. ;-)

  • Edit Photos In the Cloud. ” As more and more people and internet companies turn to The Cloud (a non-local storage location for data) for their daily computing activities, massive storage systems in personal computers are becoming less and less necessary. But the process of photo editing is still typically done the old fashioned way — by importing pictures onto your computer’s hard drive and editing them with a specialty (read: expensive) piece of photo editing software. But that’s all starting to change with the advent of cloud photo editing sites and apps. This guide will walk you through how to use our favorite web-based photo editor, Feather, by Aviary.”
  • Amazon Simple Email Service. “…a highly scalable and cost-effective bulk and transactional email-sending service for businesses and developers. Amazon SES eliminates the complexity and expense of building an in-house email solution or licensing, installing, and operating a third-party email service.”
  • Wake-Up Call: Write Your Obituary. “Although it sounds a bit macabre, writing your own obituary—or asking a friend or a family member to do it for you—can be an excellent wake-up call that can help you make important changes in your life. There’s more on this below.”
  • The DV Show: Podcasting the INs and Outs of Digital Video. “Hosted by Brian Alves, a 22-year veteran of video production, a crack team of 12 seasoned media professionals and one Entertainment Attorney, the shows feature answers to listener questions, careful reviews, product news, tips, tutorials, contests and high-profile interviews with industry professionals — all in a quick and engaging format for thousands of listeners to enjoy worldwide.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • A Crash Course in Marketing With Stories. “If you want your marketing to really sizzle, if you want people to remember it, you need to turn your marketing messages into stories. I’ve broken down the classical elements of story below so you can begin to think like a storyteller, and make your marketing messages stick.”
  • 10 Essential Books on Typography. “Whether you’re a professional designer, recreational type-nerd, or casual lover of the fine letterform, typography is one of design’s most delightful frontiers, an odd medley of timeless traditions and timely evolution in the face of technological progress. Today, we turn to 10 essential books on typography, ranging from the practical to the philosophical to the plain pretty.”
  • One Big Collection of 300 Vintage TV Ads. “Thanks to vintage advertising we can get at least some idea of what TV used to be like, which features used to be a big deal, what technology was exploding onto the scene, and what ad managers thought would sell the latest in entertainment.”

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Encore! 10 Indispensable Self-Editing Books.

10 Essential Self-Editing Books. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned professional, these ten reference books are a must for your library. My thanks to the  following  Association of Personal Historians colleagues who suggested many of these books: Pat McNees, Mim Eisenberg, Stephen Evans, and Philip Sherwood  … Read More

30 Sites That Will Boost Your Personal History Performance.

How many of you could use some further training to enhance your personal history skills? I know I can!

Whether you’re starting out or well established,  here’s a select list of sites that can help.  I’ve combed the Internet to bring you some of the best. If you have suggestions for other resources that you’d like to see listed here, please let me know.


Producing an e-mail newsletter

How to build and use a blog


Writing & Editing

Book production and design



Social Media

Photo Scanning

Photo by Andrew

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10 Indispensable Self-Editing Books.

self editing

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned professional, these ten reference books are a must for your library. My thanks to the  following  Association of Personal Historians colleagues who suggested many of these books: Pat McNees, Mim Eisenberg, Stephen Evans, and Philip Sherwood .

  • Write It Right: The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros. “In a succinct five-step process, this reference shows how to save time and frustration when editing one’s own work, creating stronger, more precise text that holds the reader’s attention. Through its practical, field-tested approach featuring frequently asked questions and key points for reflection at each step, writers learn how to avoid embarrassing themselves on paper, remain objective throughout the process, pinpoint their own unique writing challenges, and recognize when it is time to call for outside help. Tips and examples in the grammar and usage section further illustrate how to overcome the most common writing challenges that plague writers.”
  • The Savvy Self-Editing Book. “… a guide for writers to develop their own editing process to suit their needs and vision. It breaks down the editing process into three stages: Content, Sentence, and Copy Editing. Its concise format gives writers concrete examples, charts, and quick and easy editing techniques that make a difference!”
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. “…lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft. Addressed to copyeditors in book publishing and corporate communications, this thoughtful handbook explains what copyeditors do, what they look for when they edit a manuscript, and how they develop the editorial judgment needed to make sound decisions.”
  • Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. “…over 700 examples of original and edited sentences, this book provides information about editing techniques, grammar, and usage for every writer from the student to the published author.”
  • The Fine Art of Copyediting. “This well-crafted book focuses on the details of copyediting and as a bonus gives advice on human relationships in the editorial process. Well-written, insightful, concise, and punchy, this compact book provides a novice with the basics of copyediting and is a useful and fun review for old hands. I recommend The Fine Art of Copyediting highly.” ~ Reader Review
  • On Writing Well. “… belongs on any shelf of serious reference works for writers.” ~ New York Times
  • Edit Yourself. “As a professional editor, I rely on many tools. I consistently return to Ross-Larson’s book because it is thorough while being easy to use. I can find what I want fast. I particularly like his list of word substitutes: after reading “in addition to” and “in view of the fact that” a hundred times, I forget the simple substitutes. Ross-Larson’s book consistently brings me out of the engineering woods.” ~ Reader Review
  • The Artful Edit. “Susan Bell, a veteran book editor, also offers strategic tips and exercises for self-editing and a series of remarkable interviews, taking us into the studios of successful authors such as Michael Ondaatje and Ann Patchett to learn from their various approaches to revision. Much more than a manual, The Artful Edit inspires readers to think about both the discipline and the creativity of editing and how it can enhance their work.”
  • Grammatically Correct. “For those who value correct grammar, Anne Stilman has written the definitive guide. She holds you to her high grammatical standards, and clearly explains how to follow the rules. There are chapters on “Spelling,” “Punctuation,” “Grammar,” and “Style,” and Stilman patiently elucidates the rules of colons, brackets, and plural formations, while gracefully tackling the common misuses of “lie” versus “lay.”

Photo by Felipe Morin

Editing Brings Out The Gold.

gold panningMany of my potential clients aren’t familiar with how a book or video life story is actually produced. They’re  often quite surprised at the number of hours it takes to do a professional editing job. Over the years I’ve tried to explain the editing process using analogies that might create an “Ah Ha” moment for my clients.

If you’re reading this as someone who’s  interested in having yours or someone else’s life story told, perhaps my analogies will help you understand the process. If you’re  a personal historian, these examples might be something you can add to your kit bag of tools.

  • The cabinet maker analogy: Editing is like making a fine piece of furniture. Let’s say you want an end table built. The cabinet maker you hire starts with the raw material, usually  hardwood. She carefully measures and cuts the pieces according to a blueprint. The pieces are then assembled but at this point the table  is still rough and requires sanding. The final stage involves using finer and finer grades of sandpaper until the table is ready for varnishing. Layers of varnish are laid down and rubbed smooth between each application. The result is an exquisite heirloom quality end table you’d be proud to display in your home. So too the print or video editor starts with the raw material of the interviews. After cutting them down and structuring the story she polishes the manuscript or video by refining the initial edit and then working on an attractive overall design.
  • The gold panning analogy: I got this analogy  from reading an interview with Studs Terkel, the famous American oral historian. He said that editing was like a miner panning for gold. The miner had to carefully sift through earth and gravel before he came up with some flecks of gold in the bottom of his pan. Like the miner, Terkel said he had to go through  the transcripts patiently extracting the gems that were locked away in the interviews. It was a long and painstaking process.
  • The symphony orchestra analogy: Editing is similar to composing a symphony. There are many different instruments all with their unique qualities and sounds. It’s not enough simply to write down a bunch of notes and hope that somehow a beautiful sound will be produced. You have to structure each section of the symphony so that when it is played it not only has a beginning, middle, and end but that it is harmonious and polished. Like a symphony, the editor pares away at the raw interview material and shapes it so that it to has structure and no extraneous notes and is beautiful to read.

If you’re a personal historian and have some editing  analogies you find particularly helpful, please share them in the comment box below.

Photo by Jon Kneller

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9 Editing Tips to Turn Your Transcripts Into Gold.


In producing a book on someone’s life story, the work of recording the  interviews is just the beginning of the creative process.  You’ll need to make transcripts of the interviews and then edit them. Editing transcripts makes the story come alive. By removing the  extraneous words and tangled syntax and structuring the transcript into a coherent and interesting narrative, you’ll strike gold. Here are nine tips that will help you with your editing.

  • Tone and style: Make sure to keep the “voice” of the person you’re editing. Don’t rewrite the interview to the point where it sounds like you!
  • Repeated words: Watch out for words and phrases that are repeated. Readers will become bored.
  • Sentence length: Vary the length of sentences. Alternating long with short sentences makes it easier and more natural to read the completed story. As a rule, the shorter the sentence, the more energy it gives the writing. Research shows that twenty-word sentences are fairly clear to most readers. Thirty-word sentences are not.
  • Adverbs: People tend to use adverbs to give emphasis. The result is the opposite. All words ending in “ly” should be used sparingly.
  • Commas: People don’t speak with commas in mind so you will have to place them in your edited transcript. Many phrases, compound sentences, and most modifying clauses call for commas. Commas make a sentence comprehensible to the reader.
  • Eliminate “just” and “so”: Whenever you encounter these words, drop them. They’re not needed.
  • Vary the first word: Try to make the first word of each paragraph as well as the first word of every sentence different.
  • Compress and clarify: Think hard about every word you use. Is it necessary? Is there a concise way to say this? Follow the rule of one idea per sentence.
  • Logical order: The story needs to be written so that the reader can easily follow the narrative. Where does the story begin? What’s in the main body? And how does it end?

I hope these tips are helpful. Do you have any other tips you’d like to suggest?

Photo by stephweiss

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Manage and Share Your Family Photos with Flickr.

flickrThanks to Denise Olson at Family Matters for pointing out the value of Flickr for family history projects. If you don’t already know, Flickr is a web based application which allows you to upload, edit, archive and share your photographs  with others.  The basic account is simple to set up and free. For a modest $25 a year, you can get a Flickr Pro account with unlimited space.  I discovered Flickr when I was writing my mother’s life story. It was  perfect for uploading her photographs and organizing them into groups. I could even edit and clean up some of the more damaged pictures. To me,  Flickr’s great value  is that it provides a secure place to keep your treasured photos. You no longer have to fear that should your hard drive crash, all your photos will be wiped out.

Of value too are Flickr groups:

Groups are a way for people to come together around a common interest, be it a love of small dogs, a passion for food, a recent wedding or an interest in exploring photographic techniques. And if you can’t find a group which interests you, it’s super-easy to start your own.

Groups can either be public, public (invite only) or completely private. Every group has a pool for sharing photos and videos and a discussion board for talking.

Flickr has 36 million users and an assortment of  groups of particular interest to personal historians.  Here’s a sample:

  • Old Photos has more than 4,600 members and over 47,000 photos in the collection.
  • 100 Years Old has more than 4,000 members and over 9,000 photos – each more than 100 years old.
  • Scrapbook has 1,754 members and close to 17,000 photos.

If you want to organize and manage your family, check out Flickr. You won’t be disappointed.

Photo by Mohammad Tajer

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Ten Great Links to Help With “Pesky” Grammatical Stuff.

grammarI’ve a confession to make. I’ve never been great with  grammar. Maybe that’s why I work primarily in video ;-)   I’m sure some of you more keen- eyed grammarians have spotted the odd blunder or two in my posts. However, when I do write major pieces I always rely on a good editor to polish my work.  There are many talented editors out there and if you’re looking for someone, I’d highly recommend Stephen Evans, The Freelance Editor.

For those of you who prefer to work on your own, here’s a great list composed by the Online Education  Database:  150 Resources to Help You Write Better, Faster, and More Persuasively. The following list is excerpted  from their section on English Language Skills.

  1. English Grammar FAQ: A simple and easy-to-use list of common English language problems and how to solve them. This list was compiled through an extensive archive of postings to alt.usage.english by John  Lawler, Linguistics, U. Michigan, Ann Arbor.
  2. 50Tools to Increase Your Writing Skills: Offered by Poynter Online, these tips are clever and wise. Although Poynter is geared toward journalists, this list is geared toward any writer.
  3. Gender-Fair Language: This short guide will help you to avoid gender-specific discrimination in your writing and speech.
  4. Grammar, Punctuation, and Capitalization for Technical Writers and Editors: Although this comprehensive guide is geared toward technical writing, its easy-to-use format and easy-to-understand explanations  would benefit any writer.
  5. Guide to Grammar and Style: Written by Jack Lynch, this site provides grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage that Lynch put together for his classes.
  6. Guide to Grammar and Writing: Choose from several modules that will help you to determine how to structure your writing. The Capital Community College Foundation sponsors the Guide to Grammar and Writing.
  7. Hypergrammar: The University of Ottawa provides a heavily linked explanation to all things proper in English grammar. This is a comprehensive one-stop shop for structure, spelling, and punctuation.
  8. Free Online Spell Checker: It checks for spelling and grammar mistakes and then gives instant feedback.
  9. The Elements of Style: William Strunk, Jr. wrote the classic reference book for any student and conscientious writer. Bartleby.com offers the entire book free online.
  10. Verbix: Did he lay or lie? Which tense should you use? If you’re confused, this English conjugator will help you to determine how to use verbs in the proper tense. You can also Ask Oxford if you’d prefer.

Photo by Margaret Vincent

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