Use These 7 Editing Tips to Make Any
I’ll never forget it …
The word was “Association.”
No, it wasn’t a spelling bee failure. Instead, I’d misspelled it once in my copy on a direct-mail flyer.
My boss was shocked, and rightfully so. I’d produced a 144-page annual catalog for him with zero reported errors … so his expectations of me were high.
Unfortunately, the misspelling also went unnoticed by quality control at the printers and mailed out with the typo. The discovery was so embarrassing, I can still recall where I was when my boss yelled at me about it while I was on vacation at Walt Disney World.
That was a long time ago. And I still absolutely loathe mistakes in copy.
That dedication to accuracy serves me well in my writing career … Especially in my role as a copyeditor. My clients tell me my value is very high — I could make a typo and they wouldn’t even bat an eye (let alone yell at me!).
You see, copyediting is so much more than catching typos, fixing punctuation, or adhering to best practices in grammar.
Those tasks are often a part of thorough proofreading.
But copyediting is a step beyond. It’s about making sure the copy works — that it’s effective, polished, and will achieve its goals.
Where proofreading is often about checking what’s there in the copy, copyediting is about what isn’t there too.
Is something missing, incomplete, or inexplicable? Is everything presented in the best order, or does the sequence defy logic?
Answering those kinds of questions helps an effective copyeditor elevate a sales message from good to GREAT — and that difference shows up in the bottom line. Better results, more clicks, higher sales. All tangible benefits of publishing copy that is excellent, not just adequate.
That ability to elevate makes the copyeditor a valuable part of the team. An important partner to the writer … a protector for the company … and an advocate for the reader.
Juggling the needs of those three people makes copyediting a “human” function. The inroads of AI into the copywriting industry will not change the need for companies to publish information that is correct, high-quality, and engaging. Readers demand it — and so does Google.
So the adoption of AI will actually increase the need for good copyeditors to verify the information and ensure the text is not too linear, too boring, or too repetitive to be of value.
You May Be a Copyeditor If …
Curious if this might be a path to the writer’s life for you? (Yes, you can get there even without writing any original copy!)
Here’s an informal test with three ways to know if you may be a good copyeditor …
A. Your family and friends tell you they’re afraid to write you a note in a greeting card for fear you’ll notice any mistakes …
2. Your book reviews on Goodreads rival a critic’s breakdown in The New York Times …
d. You notice typos on everything from menus to social media. (Every “Your an idiot” you see online makes you cringe, hard.)
The ‘A-2-d’ is a joke from the movie Home Alone … but if the incongruent alignment caught your eye, you might be a copyeditor.
Being passionate about words and the clarity of a message are great attributes of a copyeditor.
Critical thinking, a fairly wide (even surface-level) knowledge of pop culture, and an ability to deeply research the validity of statements will serve you well.
A decent memory is another useful trait. Here’s a very basic example … if the writer says a car is blue on one page, is it still blue in any additional references? That kind of tiny detail may seem trivial, but the minute your reader catches a mistake, it’s a tiny chink in their belief in whatever else you’re saying.
Now, let’s look at some copyediting secrets …
7 Copyediting Tips to Strengthen Any Copy
Here are seven tactics you can use to improve any copy you or someone else writes:
1. You’ve got style.
Ask your client if they have a Style Guide they follow. That one question will make you look like a pro right from the outset.
If you’re not familiar, a Style Guide is a document containing company guidelines for official spellings and formatting of proprietary product names, commonly used jargon, font styles, and much more.
Following a Style Guide is essential if you’re on retainer to write ongoing materials, like a blog, e-letter, or series of articles. Your client will be thrilled to receive copy that is closer to a finished product.
If they don’t have a Style Guide, you could start building one of your own.
2. “Assumes facts not in evidence.”
Lawyers use that phrase to describe information that has not previously been established or for which no evidence has been shown.
In copy, you may see phrases like, “remember,” “as I mentioned,” or “we talked about,” followed by a concept. But the catch is … Was the idea really mentioned previously? Or is this actually the first mention of the concept? (Extensive editing by multiple reviewers often leads to this error.) Verify those references and edit the text if needed.
3. That’s enough of that.
One word you can remove from copy to add another level of polish is “that.”
How do you do it? When you’re editing copy, read a sentence containing “that,” and read it again mentally skipping over the “that.” If the sentence still makes complete sense without the “that,” you can delete it to create more readable copy.
4. Know thy client.
Learn your client’s copywriting foibles (or your own!) — it will enable you to better copyedit the work.
For example, say one client types “you” instead of “your” on a fairly regular basis. You’ll know to double-check for that typo.
Or, another example might be a client who skips words while they’re typing. They’re probably thinking quickly to get an idea down, but it means those missing words need to be filled in during the copyediting phase.
One trick is to read the copy backwards. Your brain will be less likely to subconsciously fill in the missing words. Or highlight or underline each word of the text on a hard copy as you read it to pick up more mistakes.
5. “Trust, but verify.”
Check everything …
- Company URL, phone numbers, addresses.
- Name spellings. Titles. Background, if mentioned.
- Calculations: percentages, totals, statistics. (I recently read a book where the author was off by 10% when the percentages were added up. Poor editing!)
- Details. (For instance, verify if the product really got invented in the year stated.)
- Common words that are often misspelled. In our industry, gold mine is an example — it’s two words, not one.
6. Making a list, checking it twice …
Obviously, the copyeditor should check things like whether a numbered list contains all the numbers, and in the right order …
But beyond the obvious, are the points listed in a logical order? Does the sequence make sense or do they need to be reorganized?
If bullet points do not need to be in a specific order, are the most important points in the beginning and end positions?
Are there key points buried in a paragraph that would be better emphasized if they were changed to bullet points or a numbered list? Watch for opportunities to make ideas clearer for the reader.
7. “Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions.”
To increase your value, don’t just point out problems, errors, or weaknesses in copy. Offer solutions for how to fix the issues. Suggestions for how to strengthen a sentence … alternative words or phrases … substitutions for examples that aren’t clear … recommendations for how copy could be moved around and why … and so on. Be proactive.
Copyediting doesn’t involve so much original writing as a lot of rewriting. Reorganizing. Verifying. Fixing and polishing.
It’s actually a great “sidestep” into the writer’s life. It can also be a faster path to your “dream” clients too …
Once your foot is in the door, there’s every likelihood the day will come when you’ll be offered the opportunity to write original copy for them as well. After all, who would know their products, style, and voice better than you do?
The demand for effective, high-quality copy is constantly growing. To get started, all you need is some proper training in the art of copyediting … The tactics, secrets, and insights that will give you the know-how to hit the ground running.
Luckily, AWAI has created a self-paced training resource that teaches the craft of revising any writing project to improve its value, readability, and style. Check out the details about How to Use Copyediting for Career Advancement and Side Profit today.
As a copyeditor, you can be as busy and booked as you want to be. Plus, you’ll form strong associations (note the proper spelling!) with your clients — and they won’t ever want to let you go.
The AWAI Method™ for Becoming a Skilled, In-Demand Copywriter
The AWAI Method™ combines the most up-to-date strategies, insights, and teaching methods with the tried-and-true copywriting fundamentals so you can take on ANY project — not just sales letters. Learn More »