How to be a Good Copy Editor: 5 Critical Traits

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!

What a Copy Editor Does and Why You Need One

What a Copy Editor Does and Why You Need One

If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to say that at least part of what you do during your workday, this day at least, involves writing. A staggeringly large number of professions involve writing to a certain degree, whether it’s penning e-mail correspondence as a customer service representative, typing up a new company compliance policy as a general manager, creating a press release as an advertising representative, or writing that novel you’ve always wanted to finish. If you’re writing something that needs to stand up to scrutiny, something that needs to be flawless and persuasive, or compelling and concise, then you just may need to get yourself a copy editor.

What’s a copy editor, you ask?

A copy editor, put simply, is a your very own grammatical sounding board for all that you’ve spent your time working on. A good copy editor will read over what you’ve written, note places where spelling, spacing, or grammar is incorrect, and will suggest changes to awkward phrases. They will also sometimes let you know if a particular section needs more information, citations, a little tweaking, a little less fluff, or if it’s just plain bad.

Now, that sounds a little painful, particularly because you’ll be ostensibly paying this copy editor to pick apart your magnum opus, but believe us when we tell you this: It’s for the best. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest reasons why you will most certainly benefit from all of the pain and discomfort that hiring a copy editor will introduce to your life.

You’re too close to the material

It’s less a case of “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” and more a case of “you’ve stopped paying attention to the fact that all of the leaves are the wrong color because you haven’t seen a green one since you entered this forest.” A copy editor, first and foremost, is there to be an unbiased third party. You’ve read your copy over and over, you’ve obsessed over it, you’ve been through it backwards. You are absolutely convinced that there is no better way to say what you’re trying to say – but a copy editor hasn’t been swimming in your prose like you have. A fresh pair of eyes is never a bad thing – and in the case of the copy editor, it’s a trained pair of eyes. Your copy editor will find ways to improve your piece. If he or she believes it’s perfect just the way you wrote it, then hire a different copy editor.

You know what you mean

No one lives in your brain except for you. Phrases, idioms, and awkward sentences may make perfect sense to you but be confusing to someone else. Your copy editor will identify the places that are potentially confusing and will work with you to purge your copy of “I know what I meant” syndrome. Everyone, even the humble author of this blog who has arguably above-average grammar skills, has a few words that always escape their spelling ability, a few holes in their knowledge of the proper use of commas, apostrophes, or semicolons, or other grammatical “quirks” that may seem fine to you but will make you look amateurish in front of a reader who catches those mistakes. A good copy editor will also know what you mean – and he or she will explain it in a way that makes you look perfectly polished and professional.

You’re not as thorough as you think.

When you compose a piece, you may get an entire train of thought out of your head and onto the page, but usually writers find that on further inspection, we’re not as thorough as we thought we were. A good copy editor will not just inspect your copy for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and clear language – a good copy editor will also think of the questions you didn’t think of, the rebuttals you didn’t consider, and the flaws in your logic. A good copy editor will ensure that the copy that makes it to your customers’ eyes is as complete and thorough as possible, and that makes you look like you’ve done all your homework.

So – what does a copy editor do? A copy editor passes over your writing for grammatical accuracy, proper spelling, correct punctuation, clarity of language, eloquence of thought, a proper flow, and finally, ensures that your copy is thorough and well thought out. In short, your copy editor is not here to pick apart your hard-earned creation or to squabble over the nuances of journalistic style guides vs. literary style guides. Your copy editor, if you’ve got a good one, is on your side, and his or her job above all is to make you, your company, and your writing look as good as it can possibly look.