Paramyxoviruses are thought to edit their P gene mRNAs co-transcriptionally, by a mechanism in which the polymerase stutters and reads the same template base more than once. Sendai virus (SeV) and bovine parainfluenza virus type 3 (bPIV3) are closely related viruses, but SeV edits its P gene mRNA with the insertion of a single G residue (at approximately 50% frequency) within the sequence 5' A6G3, whereas bPIV3 inserts 1 to approximately 6 Gs at roughly equal frequency within the sequence 5' A6G4. When SeV synthetic mini-genomes containing either SeV or bPIV3 P gene editing cassettes are expressed from cDNA in cells which are also transfected with the SeV NP, P and L genes, the virus-specific editing patterns were reproduced. Since the bPIV3 editing pattern was reproduced in a system that is otherwise completely SeV, this suggests that all the information for the virus-specific editing patterns is due to the RNA sequence itself. Unexpectedly, the length of the template C run was found to be critical, even though it varies from 3 to 7 nucleotides in length in different viruses. Expanding this template C run first led to attenuation of the insertion phenotype, and then to deletions rather than insertions. A stuttering or slippage model to account for these events has been further refined to include a pressure which displaces the nascent strand in a given direction once it has disengaged from the template, and the similarities of this model to those which account for readthrough of cellular RNA polymerase transcription blocks are discussed.