Some people seek the spotlight. Me? I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person, which makes me particularly suited to be a copyeditor. I really enjoy helping people build and clarify ideas until they morph into a nicely structured, publishable piece.
I know that you’ve poured your heart into that document. Whether it’s a magazine article or sell sheet, you need that piece of writing to showcase who you, your products or services are. Copyeditors don’t take that lightly. With that in mind, my goal as a copyeditor is to make the document work for you as best as possible.
The Big Picture Edit
The first thing I do is grab pen and paper. As I do the initial read-through, I’m writing down the specific points you make. Through the second reading, I double check consistency and flow against my notes.
Have you described something in detail before you tell the reader what you’re talking about? Have you told the reader you will expand on an idea later, but never come around to it again? Do the points you make progress in a clear and logical way?
This big picture step is as essential for longer works as it is for short pieces. It’s as necessary for print articles as it is for online articles. If the reader doesn’t understand the author’s point or feels frustrated, those ideas are forever lost. Don’t worry, though. As a writer, myself, I know the thought, effort, and intent that goes into turning the amazing ideas in your head into something meaningful for the reader. I approach everyone’s document respectfully.
The Nitty-Gritty Edit
The next phase of the copyediting process involves a deep dive into the work. That’s where I root out any affront to language and understanding. I’m on the look out for these:
- grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure problems
- consistency of verb tense, tone, and style check
- paragraphs or sentences that defy logic
- fact checking
- text that needs tightening, expanding, adding, or deleting
- overused, redundant, or otherwise problematic words, phrases, or sentences.
Copyeditors flag all of these issues (and more, if necessary). They explain why they are a problem and how to fix them. Some authors fear that a copyeditor will change their work in ways that might not reflect the original intent. The changes a good copyeditor makes are just suggestions. Whether or not all of those changes are accepted is left to the author.
*I’m really focusing on an author-freelance copyeditor relationship. The role and authority that a copyeditor has over someone’s work can be different within a publishing house.
Online or Print-out Edit
There are a lot of ways to edit online – MS Word or Pages track changes, Adobe Acrobat, in-text notes. I’m happy to use whatever format the author understands.
I’m generally not a fan of jargon or any other methods of separation and exclusion. I see copyediting the same way. I know editors have at their disposal a whole series of symbols, codes, and short-forms to indicate errors and the changes they want made to the document. Because most of my clients are business owners who don’t have the time to decipher editing codes, I use plain language to point out errors and changes.
The Style Guide – the company bible
Every company, brand, or publisher – whether online or bricks and mortar – uses a preferred style guide. One of the first questions I will ask you is which one you want me to use. It’s important for consistency across company- or brand-related documents. A style guide tells me how quotation marks should be structured, which words to use, what the logo should look like, and lots more that might be specific to your business. A retail company might expect store literature to say “merchandise management system” instead of “stock maintenance system”.
I live for deadlines. Although, as a freelance content writer and copyeditor, I guess I have to if I’m going to get anything done. Beyond that, part of a copyeditor’s job is making sure that everyone meets assigned deadlines, including the author. When deadlines are planned properly, everyone has sufficient time to write, edit, and finally complete the project.
Ok, let’s be real. Overtime still happens occasionally. But, life would be so boring without rush jobs, interruptions, and unforeseen circumstances, right?
Check Your Facts
Yes, this, too, is the copyeditor’s responsibility. Knowing which sources are appropriate and authoritative in each industry is a vital skill (I’d call it a super power!).
There’s so much information on the internet, but it’s not all accurate or without bias. Copyeditors need to know how to sort through all of it. So, what facts are we actually checking? Well, anything. You might make a statement that I recognize as potentially problematic. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means I’m going to make doubly sure you’re right.
A writer’s claims aren’t the only bits copyeditors confirm. We also verify editing conventions. Rules change. Copyeditors will check corrections against the latest style manual editions, like The Chicago Manual of Style.
Who Needs A Copyeditor?
After all that, you might think that question a tad unnecessary. The truth is that copyediting seems easy enough. Why wouldn’t an author be able to do it themselves?
Apart from the fact that copyeditors do, indeed, have specialized knowledge, there’s another more compelling reason to hire a one. You know your work so well that your eyes will naturally skip over the errors. Copyeditors are practiced at spotting even the most well-camouflaged problems.
Have you missed any errors in your own work?
If you’re interested, Editors Canada provides information on how to become a copyeditor.