Copy editing is a key part of the process here at Write My Site; no piece of content is allowed to leave the office without having someone else look over it. But what do we look for?
Here’s a quick look into the role of an editor, and the difference good copy editing can make.
So, what is a copy editor and what do they do?
A copy editor spends their time picking at pieces until they are the best they can be. No matter how great the writer may be, they can always benefit from a thorough edit.
How is copy editing different from proofreading?
A proofreader checks a piece of content for errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation and possibly syntax. They are not usually involved in shaping the overall structure or argument of the piece.
A copy editor works closely with the writer to turn an original draft into an outstanding piece of work. The extent of their involvement depends on the scope of work required, but a copy editor may suggest anything from a light edit to a full restructure: whatever it takes to get the piece up to scratch.
Editorial mistakes act as an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction from the narrative and key message. It’s a copy editor’s job to prevent them.
Think of copy editors as educated guinea pigs. They’re the test-subject for your content, but can also offer advice and guidance on how to improve your piece before publishing it.
When editors and writers work together, the result should be outstanding copy. So outstanding, in fact, that the reader is completely unaware of the collaboration.
“It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.” —Elmore Leonard
The best writing flows well, without interruption. The reader shouldn’t realise that they’re reading to the end. Only through working together, can writers and editors ensure they create good content every time.
What do copy editors look for?
When you’re writing, you often become snow-blind to any mistakes you have made. An editor will often find small mistakes which your brain just doesn’t see. If you can’t get an editor, self-editing a few days after writing your first draft is a great idea.
Here are a few things to look out for:
- Structural issues
- Gaps in logic or unsupported claims
- Problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation
- Missed or duplicated words
- Odd/inappropriate phrasing
- Discrepancies in voice and style
- Mis-used facts
If the piece is to be published online, a copy editor well-versed in SEO best practice can be an invaluable asset. Often, a small tweak here and there to make a piece more keyword-rich can work wonders.
Top 9 tips for good copy editing
Here are our top 9 tips for editorial success.
1. Read it from top to bottom
Many editors jump right in and scribbling all over a piece. However, if they take the time to give it a full read-through first, they will have a better understanding of the piece and its potential impact.
2. Read it aloud
The basic rule with editing is if you can’t say it, you can’t read it.
Reading aloud is a great way to annoy the office, but it’s the best way to make sure a piece flows nicely. You’re more likely to catch little errors and discrepancies. For example, when you run out of breath, you will know that your sentence is too long or lacks punctuation.
3. Then read it backwards
By reading your piece backwards, sentence by sentence, you’ll identify incorrect punctuation, double words and many other editorial issues.
4. Look out for the obvious problems
Is it a “ten top tip” piece with only nine tips? Do the links work? Does the piece follow the title and have a clear aim?
It’s an editor’s job to spot all of these obvious mistakes which will cause a reader to exit a page and look for an alternative somewhere else.
5. Cut that piece down
Attention spans are short, so don’t be afraid to cut the fluff and get right to the heart of subject.
Every word should progress the argument. If it doesn’t, it’s superfluous.
6. Ask ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ about everything
How do you know this? Why does it happen? Why should we believe you?
These are just some of the questions that editors must be asking throughout their analysis. If the piece doesn’t provide the answer, it’s not going to be very effective or trustworthy.
7. Make it active
Some writers tend to drift off tangent and write in long elaborate sentences that almost always are written in the passive voice.
This makes the message unclear, long-winded and just a bit dull. Energise the piece by identifying these passive phrases and adjusting them to speak in the active voice.
To recognise the passive voice, look out for:
- A form of the verb ‘to be’
- A past participle (usually the -ed form of a verb)
The word ‘by’ followed a noun
Passive: the window was broken
Active: Pete broke the window
Passive: The Olympics will be hosted by Tokyo in 2020
Active: In 2020, Tokyo will host the Olympics
Using the active voice cuts down the word count and is easy to do. Especially if you use Yoast, which identifies passive sentences for you.
8. Proofread after publishing
The editor’s job does not end when they’ve sent the piece off for publication. They must check for mistakes after upload too.
Some issues may have fallen through the cracks, or the transfer process from Microsoft Word to WordPress may have missed out a pargraph break. Either way, a final proof in situ is a must.
This is great for digital teams, as any amends can be made directly into the CMS. For printed documents, make sure you give the proof a through check before signing off on the full print run.
9. Build a relationship with your writer
The editor/writer relationship can be a bit tense. It is one person’s job to point out all the flaws in another’s writing and fix them. By working together and establishing a trusting relationship, heated situations can be avoided.
An editor must never be afraid to send a piece back to a writer. You cannot edit a bad piece into a great one. The writer’s job is to deliver a good quality piece, so the editor can help them crank it up a notch.
One thing to remember is that editors should not edit in silence. That way no-one learns or improves and the writing process becomes a strenuous and ineffective cycle. By communicating with the writer, the pieces will improve, take up less time and allow for more projects to begin. The more comments the better – and be specific, so the writer knows exactly what they need to do to improve.
Well there it is: a short summary of what an editor can do to help a piece of copy sparkle. Build a copy editing stage into your content workflow to reap the rewards a fresh set of eyes has to offer.