Let’s edit CNN! Its stuff is awful!

Wow, you’d think that with all the super smart people who work at CNN, you’d find correct copy.

Don’t bet the house.

Here are just a couple of things from just one article:

1) His campaign staffers set up a politically-active nonprofit…

Gosh, I thought everyone knows the rule that you never hyphenate an -ly adverb. Guess not.

2) His reporting lives under the brand, “The Point with Chris Cillizza,” and includes a nightly newsletter and weekday Amazon Echo and Google Home flash briefings.

Lemme ask you a question: Is the title of this guy’s program parenthetical information? In other words, can you take out the material inside the commas and still have a sentence that makes sense?

No, no you can’t. The name of this guy’s program is essential  to the meaning of the sentence, so it can’t be removed. This is correct:

His reporting lives under the brand “The Point with Chris Cillizza,” and includes a nightly newsletter and weekday Amazon Echo and Google Home flash briefings.

3) Chris Cillizza is a CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large, covering national politics including the White House, Congress and every district they represent.

Who, pray, is “they” in this sentence? It’s got to be “Congress,” but, last time I looked, “Congress” is a collective noun, a singular noun. I’d suggest “members of Congress,” and then everything is hunky-dory.

And, while I’m at it, stick a comma after “politics.” There. Better.

4) and 5)

“Roll Call” (whatever that is) is a corporate entity, which refers to a group of people but is treated as a singular noun, just like any corporation you’d care to name. A corporation is an “it,” so that “their White House correspondent” is incorrect. And, this is yet another case of someone not knowing rules about commas. I vote for commas to precede “where” in each of the following sentences:

Prior to The Washington Post, Cillizza reported on campaign politics for Roll Call where he served as their White House Correspondent. He also previously reported for The Cook Political Report where he covered gubernatorial and House races.

I’d also like to know why The Washington Post is not in italics.

Don’t get me wrong. I love CNN. It’s a shame its editorial standards aren’t higher.

Edit THIS!

How many mistakes? I count three, which, in my opinion, is three too many for this published author.

Attendance in our 12 week course gives you access to special pricing (up to 50% off) on noted live events. (Note: not all live events will hold the same discounts, please check with us for details).

My edit:

Attendance in our 12 [where’s the hyphen?] week course gives you access to special pricing (up to 50% off) on noted live events. (Note: not all live events will hold the same discounts, [comma splice; need a semicolon] please check with us for details). [Why’s the period outside the parenthesis?]

The path to publication

The path to publication is generally fraught with pitfalls and perils. Wow, did I find that out when I was trying to get an article in Speaker magazine. I had pitched an article about how to create compelling copy in the summer, which was not due until the middle of the fall. After several months of looking around, reading bios and profiles and programs and marketing materials, I realized that “compelling copy” was (way) too advanced for where we, as an organization, were. What we needed, in my opinion, was to make a case for creating correct copy. (How can you be “compelling” if you aren’t “correct”? In other words, no amount of ignorant, incorrect copy can compel anyone to do anything.)

So, on my own, I wrote the article below. It was rejected, because, you see, “our members already know all this.”

Like hell they do.

Then I wrote the second article, like I pitched, and it was published, but not before the editor changed my text and created two mistakes by doing so. WTF, as the kids say. WTF, I say.

Here’s the original text, the one about “correct” copy.


Author’s note: There’s some very precise use of italics in this article. Please make sure the italics remains where I have it.


Your Writing Speaks: The Case for Correct Copy

I joined the National Speakers Association for one reason: I wanted to hang out with the smart kids. Just like playing tennis with a better player improves my backhand, joining the NSA would, I felt, motivate and inspire me—membership would “up” my speaking game. And has it ever! The exciting vibe of Influence 2017; the frantic note-taking at NSA-CF, where I am an Academy member; the tips and techniques so generously shared by NSA members both in- and outside my chapter—being a member of NSA has made me look at my own speaking activities in a whole new light. Hallelujah, I’m with the smart kids now!

So, let me ask you a question: How do you get your speaking engagements? Put another way: How do speaking engagements come to you? I bet a lot of you more accomplished speakers get engagements by word of mouth; after all, you’re known by reputation. I guess I’m really asking the people who aren’t the mega-famous thought leaders, the internationally best-selling authors; that is to say, people like me: How do you get booked?

If you’re like me, you’re chasing down potential hosts. You’re filling out applications for the opportunity to share your brilliance at a conference, a seminar, or a summit. You’ve sweated over your program descriptions and tweaked your program titles until they’re all tweaked out, you’ve crafted a compelling introductory email, and your bio at NSASpeaker.org absolutely sparkles. You’re probably twinkling on LinkedIn and other professional websites as well.

In other words, people are reading about you. In fact, isn’t it safe to say that sometimes people read about you before they hear you speak? And that, my friends, is why your writing is so very important. What you write, and how you write what you write, can make the difference between standing on stage or sitting at home.

Why? Why? Because it’s a tough old world out there. Because people recognize quality. People respond to quality. People follow quality. The authority of a self-confessed “thought leader” takes a big hit if his online bio contains multiple misspellings. The credibility of an “international best-selling author” crumbles if her book demonstrates a deplorable ignorance of basic punctuation. There may be plenty of speaking gigs to go around, but when five people are vying for the same speaking slot, applications that are rife with errors are tossed out like dryer lint. It is essential, it is critical, it is of paramount importance that your writing be flawless.

I admit it. I wasn’t always this way. When I managed to graduate from a fairly well-respected college with a degree in English (of all things), my knowledge of the “for-sure” precepts of American English could have fit into a teacup. A small teacup.

Gee, are quotation marks always placed outside periods and commas?

Gosh, when I’m writing, shouldn’t I put a comma wherever I’d pause if I were speaking instead of writing?

Golly, is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to use all caps for emphasis?

And then, after college, I was a construction contractor, a profession not exactly known for thinking deep thoughts about grammar. Things began to change, however, when I published my second book, a workbook about how to write an entertaining autobiography. And, bless their hearts, the purchasers of my workbook turned to me to edit their books! That’s when I realized that I had to speak intelligently and at great length about coordinate adjectives and descriptive phrases, and I absolutely, positively, had to recognize the difference between a hyphen and a dash at 50 paces. Since then I’ve edited 147 books, blogs, and bios, and I’m teetering on the precipice of publishing my fourteenth book, titled Comma Common Sense, which is sure to make me filthy rich.

So, let me ask you another question: Do you know why I used a colon in the first sentence of this article? Did you know that the answers to my college-era conundrums are “yes,” “no,” and “hell, no”?

Well, if you don’t and if you didn’t, please consider seeking out that knowledge. Why? Why? Because good writing makes you look smart! Writing well—correctly and compellingly—gives you a chance to be on stage; writing well gives you the opportunity to shine. Know it or hire it, but get it done.

Your writing speaks. What does your writing say about you? Don’t let the sun set before you take a cold, hard look at your professional writing. Dot those I’s! Cross those T’s! Use vivid words. Eliminate shoot-me-now pompous expressions (like “thought leader”!).

After all, we are the smart kids. We celebrate excellence. We are masters of our language—spoken and written. We are the NSA.


With fellow NSA-CF member Gayle Williams, Liz Coursen is co-owner of ModernSpeaker.com and EditCIRCO.com. She blogs about punctuation and grammar at EditNATION.com. Liz is author of 13 books, including Before You Even Open Your Mouth: Business Writing for Professional Speakers. She lives in Sarasota, Florida, with two dogs, two cats, and three tubs of tadpoles. Read more about Liz and the educational programs she offers at LizCoursen.com.


We “celebrate” excellence? What a crock of shit.

#1 grammar mistake made by speakers

This is a gimme: Audience is a singular noun.

Yes, I know that audience refers to a group of people, but it is one of many nouns called collective nouns, nouns that refer to more than one person but are considered singular nouns for purposes of pronoun and verb form.

An audience is an it, not a they. If referring to a group of people as an it sticks in your craw (and it does mine), then there are number of satisfying work-arounds: audience members, listeners, and participants.

Other collective nouns include association, congregation, committee, team, staff, and group.

So, these sentences, ripped right off CSPs’ websites, are wrong:

Is your team overdue for a fun, laugh-while-learning experience? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could also get them reacquainted, reenergized, and recommitted to your organization’s goals?

Linda is a past Director of a professional association at the national level and served on their convention committee with responsibility to choose and work with conference speakers.

Comma Common Sense, Quiz I

My first speaking gig of the year happened January 2, 2018, when I presented a 90-minute workshop to the Sarasota Fiction Writers, at Selby Library. “Comma Common Sense” featured two quizzes; here’s the first one.

There’s no doubt that commas are advanced. No, you don’t put a comma in every time you “pause.” There are specific rules about commas. The good news is that once you learn the rules, things really fall into place.

A word about speaking on January 2. Don’t. It’s not as much the audience—we had a great turnout and very smart people—as it is you. I don’t care how prepared you are, the time it takes to really prepare will totally chew into your holiday plans.

Comma Common Sense: An Advanced Editing Workshop

Presenter: Liz Coursen

Host: Sarasota Fiction Writers

January 2, 2018

21-Sentence Quiz I

If you see a misplaced or missing comma in these sentences please make a note. There may be other mistakes as well.

  1. “I just hate it when I have to work on a holiday”, she said.
  2. To win the contract Liz knew she’d need a sharp pencil.
  3. Liz knew she’d need a sharp pencil to win the contract.
  4. Retreat days are full and group activities often continue into the evening hours.
  5. By clicking “Place Bid ” I agree to this auction’s Terms and Conditions.
  6. When you call Pacific 54, you call Miami, not an outsourced rep in Singapore, or India.
  7. Your presentation was a major contributor to the success of our event and I am so grateful that you were able to share some of your editing expertise with our members and guests.
  8. Your offer of assistance is appreciated, however we do have a number of volunteer educators/editors we can tap already for a website audit.
  9. We have offices in New York, Palm Beach, Naples, FL, Chicago, and Birmingham, Michigan.
  10. The top culprits are death of loved one, childhood trauma, divorce, finances, poor health and personal relationships.
  11. The Scottish Terrier popularly called the Scottie, is a breed of dog.
  12. You can buy his new book, “Suncoast Empire: Bertha Honore Palmer, Her Family, and the Rise of Sarasota” and he’ll personally sign it.
  13. Eric’s expertise, as can be seen on his website ManagerMechanics.com, are in the areas leadership development, productivity, and the effect of major technology trends, such as big data, cloud computing, mobility, and social media on professional growth and career development.
  14. That’s exactly what JuliAnn Stitick, Personal Brand Expert will do for your next event.
  15. Karen and Henry Kimsey-House, the coauthors of the bestselling book Co-Active Coaching have just published another ground breaking book Co-Active Leadership, Five Ways to Lead.
  16. TSE is proud to welcome Sarasota’s Largest networking event, Marketing on Main to the Ritz Carlton of Sarasota on August 30th starting at 5:30 PM!
  17. Joseph’s other titles include Leading The Starbucks Way, The Zappos Experience, Prescription for Excellence, The Starbucks Experience, The New Gold Standard, and When Fish Fly which was co-authored with the owner of the “World Famous” Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.
  18. If you know of BNI Members who don’t have electricity or internet please let them know of this service.
  19. After a delicious nutritious breakfast we’ll dig into the brilliance of your unique personal brand strategy and development and integrate it into your existing marketing plan, product development, speaking platform and digital presence.
  20. My cousins, Tom, Dick, and Harry, were late to the party.


Liz Coursen is an award-winning 13-time author and editor in Sarasota, Florida. She is the author of 10 books about American English punctuation and grammar, and has lectured about American English business writing best practices as far away as India.