Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Financial copy editing: Choose words carefully

April 16, 2012

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Christine Steele leads a session on financial copy editing during the American Copy Editors Society's 2012 Conference.

Copy editors who attended The American Copy Editors Society’s 2012 Conference’s “Financial Editing” session learned how to ensure text is clear and readable for investors and that verbiage is accurate and does not reflect poorly on a company. Unlike journalists, financial editors must be aware that careless language can harm a company by giving investors the wrong impression.

Copy editing print for financial organizations requires going beyond catering just to the reader’s perspective to ensure the company’s message is coherent, said Christine Steele, a financial copyeditor for more than 20 years.

Steele said editors should ask themselves about the copy: “Does it suggest something you don’t want to convey?”

Steele is a senior copy editor for The Capital Group Companies, a mutual-fund outfit, where she  edits brochures for financial advisers, white papers, annual shareholder reports ,and quarterly information packets for investors.

In proofreading, copy editors should pay special attention to vocabulary that could send the wrong message. For example, investors could associate the words “bet” or “betting” with gambling. Instead, Steele suggests substituting words like “opportunities” or “prospects” or “speculating.”

Instead of the phrase “book of business,” which Steele said dehumanizes the adviser-client relationship, try a phrase like “build your business.” Or substitute “expert” with “someone with experience” for more accuracy. For a more personal touch, refer to shareholders as “investors,” a term shareholders in the mutual fund’s focus group said they prefer.

Financial jargon can be confusing. Editors who do not understand what they’re reading can turn to resources like Investopedia or Onelook. If you’re confused about what a phrase like “base level coupon” means, talk to the author.

“Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand,” Steele said. “If you don’t understand, your readers won’t understand.”

Ensure all your terminology is clear. Don’t use phrases like “digging down,” which isn’t polished or mature for a corporation. Avoid simply saying it’s a “challenging period” without giving details for context. And edit out clichés like “stay the course.”

Finally, make sure the company’s investor materials have a consistent voice and a professional tone that’s appropriate for a shareholder audience.

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