Using the notes mode

Many publications have what we call “the notes mode.” This handy feature allows writers to send messages to their editors inside their texts. The software prevents these insertions from printing or appearing on readers’ screens. Unfortunately, sometimes the system fails to block them.

The commonest message is “CQ,” which means, “I have checked this, and it is correct.” We use it to mark names, phone numbers, URLs, etc. CQ essentially tells the editors that they don’t have to check this item; smart editors take that with a grain of salt. The passage might look like this, depending on the system: “The latest blog post appears at https://donfry.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/never-trust-spell-checkers/ [CQ] and at http://tinyurl.com/ktp8bu [CQ].”

Any violation of the publication’s stylebook, profanity or obscenity, or deliberate misspelling should be marked and explained. When copy editors encounter such variants without explanation, they tend to chop them out.

For example, the “Second Reference Rule,” honored by many publications, says that names lose their titles when they appear for a second time in a piece. So “Circuit Judge Henry Smith” on first reference becomes “Smith” on the second. If you violate that rule, you explain it in the notes mode, like this: “BOTH THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY AND THE JUDGE ARE NAMED ‘SMITH,’ SO I HAVE USED THE JUDGE’S TITLE IN LATER REFERENCES.”

You might indicate deliberate misspellings, as in this sentence from my recent post on spell checkers: “For instance, I type ‘orginization’ every time I mean ‘organization,’ and spell ‘chairman’ as ‘chariman.’” The note might read, “NOTE TWO WORDS MISSPELLED ON PURPOSE.” If you put “CQ” on the misspelled words, the desk would get confused.

You can indicate potential cuts in the notes mode, a trick I learned from Dave Barry. Knowing that your editors might have to shorten your piece, you help them by marking passages to cut, including the sequence of removal. Before the cuttable part, you put “BEGIN POTENTIAL CUT ONE.” At the end, you say, “END POTENTIAL CUT ONE.” Paranoid reporters assure me that anything you mark as cuttable will get whacked out. My experience is the opposite. Editors don’t cut me; they cut people who write long and don’t help their colleagues on the desk.

WARNING. Since the software sometimes fails, particularly when a print piece is posted online later, do not include anything in the notes mode that you don’t want to appear. Like this: “I DON’T HAVE A RESPONSE FROM THE RESTAURANT OWNER BECAUSE THE ASSHOLE WON’T RETURN MY CALLS.”

As a freelancer, I don’t have a notes mode, so I create my own. I put messages in brackets and all caps, like this: [[[I CAN’T FIND THE PRICE OF THIS BOOK]]].” I hope my editors will take that out, but just in case, I’m very careful what I put in my jury-rigged notes mode.

[Any adventures with the notes mode you’d like to share?]

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Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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