Hard edit vs. soft edit

Posted on February 7, 2011


I’ve been asked via Twitter what the difference is between two editing styles in the journalism world. In a rare explanatory post, I’m happy to oblige.

I think the best way to explain the difference between a hard edit and a soft edit is through scenarios.

Let’s say you work as a copy editor in a daily paper’s newsroom. Throughout your eight-hour day, you’ll have between 20 and 30 stories sent your way for editing. Through experience, you know that you’ll spend a half hour or less editing certain stories and maybe an hour or more with other stories.

Of course, the actual length of a story factors into the time you spend with it; and, with any story, you are always editing for grammar and spelling. However, you also have to take into account what I like to call the “2 T’s”: topic and tone.

For your first edit, a reporter sends through a300-word restaurant review, which by its very nature calls for some opinion and personality by the writer. You will probably spend less than a half hour with that story. You’ll find the writing to be a bit more conversational and you want that writer’s personality to show through more. This review would be considered “soft news” in a newsroom.

The next story that comes across your desk is a 750-word story about a fire that broke out in a suburban neighborhood that destroyed several homes and looks like arson. This would be considered “hard news” in a newsroom and deserves a hard edit. There are facts to check and officials that are quoted. You have to make sure that the “5 Ws” are answered: who, what, when, where and why. There’s a sixth “W” I like to add in and that one is called “what’s next.” Unlike the restaurant review, the reporter’s voice and personality should not shine through. There is no room for opinion in this breaking news story.

In a different aspect, hard edits and soft edits are also tailored to the writers. If one writer is known to be accurate and efficient with little to no grammar, spelling or factual errors in his/her writing, you tend to give them a softer edit. It is indeed a trust factor that builds up between writer and editor.

This is the simplest way I can describe the difference between soft edits and hard edits. If you have more questions, please feel free to leave comments.



Posted in: Twisted Tidbits