copy editor

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.

3 replies
  1. Jamie Rand
    Jamie Rand says:

    Very nice article explaining the copy-editing process. But you have a mistake “A copy editor, put simply, is a your very own grammatical…”

    Any copy that comes to print will need a second pair of eyes. And sometimes a third.

    Reply

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