The world of words: 5 copyediting tips


Laura Kemmerer is an Editorial Consultant with a passion for publishing. Under her business, Laura Cat Copyediting, Laura works with companies such as Limitless Publishing and Mobile Electronics Magazine. Here are a few of her tips for effective copyediting.

1) Brush up on the basics often

After being at the computer for over ten hours, I sometimes find myself getting tripped up over the basics: who/whom, lie/lay/laid. While digital fatigue can throw a wrench into the brain of the most seasoned editing veteran, it is important to spend time brushing up on those basics once we are well-rested. This practice keeps us on our toes while continuing to solidify our mastery of language.

2) Brevity is not always king

While brevity reigns in both business and legal writing, when we work with other fields we must remember that depending on the end product, such as a memoir, there is a time and place for artistic license. Your editorial eye on a legal document should be tight and concise, but you must also remain flexible enough to have a wider vision for other forms of work.

3) Invest in style guides that are beyond your editorial sphere

The first style guide I ever purchased was the Associated Press Stylebook. As time has gone on and the scope of the projects I have worked on has changed, I find myself occasionally adding to the pile of style guides I own. While you may work primarily with the Chicago Manual of Style or New Hart’s Rules, I would advise that you invest in style guides that are beyond your working scope. Having at least a passing familiarity with different styles will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

4) Take on projects that aren’t necessarily in your comfort zone

For me, it is very easy to become comfortable working on a certain type of project. Knowing your strengths, especially as a freelancer, is invaluable, but there is a time and place where we need to push past our comfort zone. In doing so, we expand our skill sets and gain new editorial experience. (Plus, you may find yourself delving into a subject you didn’t know you loved.)

5)  Learn when to leave the author’s voice alone

Time and time again I have found myself tempted to reword a passage from top to bottom because I think it might “sound better” another way. If the rewording does nothing for the original writing, such as making something more clear or more fluid, it’s time to take a step back and realize that it is best to leave the author’s voice alone. Your personal voice should not trump the voice of the author.

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  1. I’d add another. Constantly look for tricks to make a passage just a tiny bit better. Good writing is not magic. It is a result of learning hundreds of those little tricks and constantly applying them.

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