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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published September 04 2011

Bursack: Readers curious on column’s process

Dear Readers: Since many of you ask about my selection process with readers questions, I thought I’d write about how my column works.

“Minding Our Elders” must be kept to a fairly tight number of words to fit the allotted space on the newspaper page. This, of course, limits the length of the printed questions and the depth of the answers that appears in the newspaper, as well as the online version of the column.

Many original questions, as written, would fill the space without leaving room for an answer. The actual answers are often very specific to the writer, as well. I also need to consider a wider audience when deciding which questions to address in print, so my decisions are made by considering how common a question is – or conversely – how different, but interesting, it may be.

I also protect the anonymity of the person who wrote the question. Many people write to me not caring who knows their name. However, by the time the question hits the newspaper, they may have cooled down and care a great deal. Therefore, I often change names and occasionally genders as I edit a question for space and readability.

I may receive the same question, in different forms, several times a week, so that particular question is obviously of interest to many people. However, to keep the column interesting to readers, I must seek variety. That’s why you’ll see the column content swing from purely informational to showcasing a common predicament to highlighting a somewhat odd situation. The more bizarre situations are addressed to remind caregivers that others face very difficult challenges that they may not have to address. Occasionally, I’ll write a deeply personal column to remind readers that I, too, am a seasoned family caregiver.

Rest assured that the original writer, whatever the question, received a personalized answer long before the print version appeared. My varied Internet content generally offers me considerably more room for detail, however even those articles are often squeezed into a certain number of words, depending on the publisher.

Regarding the column’s headlines; writers rarely write their own headlines. This is true for book titles and articles in magazines and newspapers or on the Internet. Therefore, please don’t blame the writer if you don’t like the headline.

And while I may direct writers to specific agencies for help, I must keep the newspaper answers general enough to give all readers information and food for thought, with universal resources included when pertinent.

I hope this information helps some of you better understand the column and its limitations. My word count is maxed out now, so goodbye until next week.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.