copy editor

How to be a Good Copy Editor: 5 Critical Traits

In the world of online content, copy editors are many things.

They’re the referees, the quality control, the champions of great writers, the seekers of incredible topics, and the organizational force that keeps the entire thing running.

In many ways, copy editors make the internet go around, except that you’d never see them doing it.

This is because copy editors work largely behind the scenes, and they only come out at choice moments, like when they’re written up in The New Yorker and congratulated for their lifetime of work, for which they’ve earned the title of “The Comma Queen.”

This is rare, though, and copy editing is largely a thankless job.

That being said, though, it’s also a critically important one, and good copy editors are worth their weight in gold.

With that in mind, I want to take today to talk about how to be a good copy editor. It’s an essential skill, and even people who work in different sectors of online business could stand to learn a thing or two from these powerhouse professionals.

Read on.

how to be a copy editor

Why Good Copy Editors Matter

If nobody was out there enforcing comma standards, the world as we know it would fall to shambles.

Alright, while it may not be as dramatic as all of that, copy editors have an incredibly important job: they make sure that the copy that gets to major publications, blogs, and platforms in hundreds of industries is readable, relevant, and informational.

They act as quality control for thousands of pieces of content each year.

Imagine if the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN refused to hire copy editors. High-brow journalism as we know it would change, and it would be exceedingly difficult to control the quality of content in any publication.

With this in mind, it’s clear that copy editors do an important job every single day. Now, let’s explore the traits that separate a great copy editor from a so-so one.

How to be a Good Copy Editor: 5 Must-Have Traits

While copy editors work in varying industries and specialties, each great copy editor shares the following characteristics:

1. Passion for the industry and the content within it

You can’t be a copy editor without a real, authentic passion for the sector within which you work.

If an editor doesn’t eat, breathe, and sleep copy, excelling at the job will be difficult, and low-quality content will begin to seep in around the edges.

This is evident in the way Mary Norris, the copy editor for The New Yorker talks about her position is a recent essay in the magazine itself:

“Then I was allowed to work on the copydesk. It changed the way I read prose—I was paid to find mistakes, and it was a long time before I could once again read for pleasure. I spontaneously copy-edited everything I laid eyes on. I had a paperback edition of Faulkner’s ‘The Hamlet’ that was so riddled with typos that it almost ruined Flem Snopes for me.”

Good copy editors do what they do almost compulsively, and they do it because they love the quality of well-written, error-free content.

Without this deep-seated passion, it’s tough to integrate fully into the position.

2. Some type of formal training

While a copy editor doesn’t necessarily need an English or Journalism degree, they do need some level of formal training in grammar, spelling, writing, SEO, newspaper methods, reporting, computer science, graphical programs, and more.

While much of this can be learned on the job, a copy editor’s job would be trial by fire without at least a passing level of prior knowledge in these areas.

Since a copy editor’s job is to ensure published content fulfills the purpose it’s meant to achieve, be that driving sales or informing readers, a broad knowledge of all things writing is essential.

3. Creativity and a healthy willingness to think outside the box

Sometimes a copy editor is given a piece that’s too long. Sometimes, a 500-word article doesn’t get to the heart of the topic. Sometimes, a piece needs to be cut, but there’s no right place to do it.

In these situations, being able to develop creative solutions is critical. While copy editors are, first, professionals, they’re also artists who must know how to execute surgical maneuvers on pieces of content every now and again.

Creativity is as important to editors as it is to writers, and the best copy editors out there will understand how to integrate creativity with professionalism to create outstanding content that leaves its mark on readers.

4. Ability to see the connections between things

If a piece is related to another issue that’s recently come up in pop culture or current events, a copy editor must be able to locate the connection.

If an article might perform better in a separate section of a publication, a copy editor must be able to bridge the gap mentally and ensure that the content winds up where it will make the most impact.

In other words, it’s critical for copy editors to have a keen sense of connections. In addition to allowing the editor to make smart content decisions, this also helps boost the editor’s efficiency and ensure that each piece of content published falls into the greater web of things just as it should.

5. Flexibility and a willingness to bend

Copy editors work with dozens of moving parts on a daily basis.

Between the writers, the publishers, and the design team, there are dozens of opinions, challenges, and conflicts to be navigated, and any copy editor who will become successful in the business must be flexible and willing to adapt.

Since each publication, writer, and editor has different expectations, guidelines, and concerns, copy editors must be fluid enough to navigate the different crags and outcroppings of the industry gracefully. Without these traits, the job is simply too stressful, and few people can hack it.

This is yet another reason why great copy editors are so very rare, and so very, very skilled.

How to Be a Good Copy Editor: Start With Love

At the end of the day, good copy editors love content, and they’re excited about putting out good material. Without this foundational passion, it’s tough to get anywhere in the business.

While many things make copy editors critical pieces of the content system, it’s their love for the craft that truly sets them apart.

By honing, tweaking, finessing, and smoothing content in all industries and specialties, copy editors play a critical role in delivering informative, exciting, relevant content to audiences everywhere.

Do you need a skilled copy creator? Contact Express Writers to learn more about our content services today!

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