Contrary to popular belief, copyeditors aren’t the only ones who do a lot of copyediting! Students and business professionals do the same when they edit a paper, an email, a grant application, a business proposal, a handbook, etc. Combing through text of any sort, looking for errors in grammar, mechanics, and making changes for the sake of clarity and organization fall under the copyediting umbrella.
So it’s easy to see why copyediting is such an important step in the writing process. Without it, you’d be sending out sloppy emails, turning in papers riddled with grammatical errors, and making an altogether poor impression on whomever is reading your work.
Whether you’re a student or business professional, here are a few copyediting hacks to make the process that much more efficient, productive, and successful:
Use the Right Tools
The first step in any copyediting process it to use tools that will help you give the best editing attention to your work. Use a method that makes it clear to you, and to anyone else looking at the edits as they occur, where changes need to be made. A few options include Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature, and Google Docs allows you to make edits as suggestions. I use both of these, but if you’re needing to collaborate on editing projects, Google Docs makes sharing and working on a document with more than one person super easy.
Know Your Style
Inevitably, if you’re editing anything but a personal diary, you’re likely going to have some form of style guide to adhere to. Academically, you’ll likely be using APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, or something similar. These provide guidelines in how to cite sources, how to format a paper, and other good stuff like that. Some professors stick to these guidelines religiously and others are more lenient; but you should be familiar with what style your department or major uses.
Even if you’re not a student, you may have some sort of company or industry style guide. These help with making capitalization, abbreviations, and other similar items uniform across all written materials in a company or industry.
You don’t have to have your particular style guide memorized, but familiarize yourself with it before you start editing so you can catch glaring mistakes in style or formatting. Have a condensed guide handy and flip through it as you make changes in your document.
Have a Goal in Mind
Are you copyediting, or are you first needing to edit with the intent of adding more content? Content editing will involve adding significant amounts of text for the sake of developing your piece of writing or making things clearer. Copyediting is making changes in grammar, mechanics, and smaller changes to the text for organization and clarity.
If you need to add or significantly edit content, do that first and then give your document a thorough copyediting.
Give Your Document a Second (or Third) Look
Don’t just go over a document once and call it a day. You should give your document a second, third, or fourth look in the copyediting process. Each time you will likely pick up mistakes or notice improvements that could be made that you didn’t notice before.
You may also find it easier to edit for grammar for the first round, mechanics in the second, formatting in the third, and so on.
Space out these run-throughs over a period of time. You’ll notice more mistakes when you look at your piece of writing with fresh eyes.
Take Your Time
Don’t rush through the copyediting process. This is when you take the ideas you’ve expressed on paper and clean them up, making sure they’re understandable and well-presented to the reader. If you’re a student, please don’t save this step for the last minute!
You’ll miss glaring mistakes if you rush through copyediting. Read the piece carefully and slowly, giving each sentence attention. You may find it helpful to read the document out loud — this can help you gauge how the writing sounds; hearing the words out loud can make awkward or poorly phrased areas more noticeable, enabling you make any changes that help it flow more naturally.
And lastly, don’t rely on Spellcheck!
Don’t rely on the spelling and grammar tool in Word or Google Docs or any other similar software to catch-all your mistakes for you — because it won’t happen. More than once, in my experience, these tools have missed huge issues in clarity or phrasing. These tools can catch spelling and punctuation mistakes pretty consistently, but don’t think your piece is carefully copyedited for clarity and organization by using this feature. Your document will benefit from authentic human attention!
Need Help Copyediting? Reach Out to Me!
Copyediting can be a tedious job but some of us odd folks actually enjoy it quite a bit (I’m one of them!). Reach out to me if you’re in need of copyediting assistance!
Happy copyediting! 🙂