We all know the feeling: after hours of staring at copy, all the commas seem wrong. You forget whether you spelled the color grey with an E on page ten and A on page 80 or vice versa. And you’re completely at a loss about whether you should fix that dangling modifier or whether you should let it go even though it’s technically incorrect. (Because come on…the sentence makes sense! Does it really matter if it’s “wrong?”) It’s more common than you think to face subjective challenges when copyediting. Writers are searching for ways to freshen up and improve their voice, but copyeditors must make sure the writing is not just clean and fresh, but also follows the rules of grammar correctly. Whether you’re a writer doing your own edits or an experienced professional, varying your approach to copyediting will lead to a better written project, reduction in voice fatigue, and fewer debates over how to fix those pesky language problems. This article covers some of the best ways to revamp your copyediting.
Read it again.
The most important thing to remember when copyediting is to read the project once, then read it again and again. If you’ve heard this advice before, there’s a good reason for that. Each read through can offer different insights and help you correct things you may otherwise have passed over. This is especially true if you complete several reads over the course of a few days. Vary the size font or even the device you’re reading on. Seeing a larger, or different font can help you to catch more mistakes that your tired eyes may have missed in the original Times New Roman. Plus, another reread never hurt, right?
Walk away and revisit it later.
Similar to the previous tip, walking away and returning to your copyediting project is an almost surefire way to catch something you missed earlier. It can be easy to skim over mistakes without realizing they’re there. “Voice fatigue” is real thing. If you’ve been reading an author’s voice for extended periods of time, you may “hear” the words and become desensitized to the small mistakes. Revisiting the project later is a simple way to reset and give yourself fresh eyes to edit errors or problems you may have missed earlier.
“Hear” your sentences.
Good copyeditors “hear” sentences and catch discrepancies or errors this way. One simple way to do this is to read the text aloud to yourself or to someone else, and mark the areas that sound odd or out of place. This is an especially useful technique to find instances of repetition, run-on sentences, or awkward phrasing.
Maintain the author’s voice.
Whether you’re copyediting your own work or a project for someone else, it’s essential to stick to the author’s voice. Practicing diplomacy when bringing issues to the attention of the author is one of the delicate jobs required of a good copyeditor. When you find a problem, if you can offer a solution—say, showing the author how to improve that dangling modifier—great. But sometimes decisions are made to preserve an author’s voice or style…and that can mean accepting something that’s less than “technically” perfect.
This might seem like unnecessary advice, but one thing many people struggle with when editing work is developing a detachment from the text. This is especially true if you’re editing your own work, because it can seem nearly impossible to cut out a paragraph you so lovingly created, even if it’s for the greater good. Copyediting is about making edits to improve the project both on a small and large scale, so that may mean changing a single word, or it could mean removing huge blocks of text. Try to see the words not as something you created and put passion and heart into, but as a work assignment. Remembering that readers won’t feel the love the writer put into the work if they can’t understand what’s being conveyed can help restrain the impulse to never cut or change problematic or unnecessary bits.
Dispense of passive voice.
Replacing instances of passivity with more active phrases can make a huge difference in how a book sounds. In fact, changing passive voice should probably happen in the drafting phase of the work. Compare these two sentences.
It was the dog that swam across the pond to save the child.
The dog swam across the pond and saved the child.
Which feels more clear, impactful, and dramatic? The second, right? Rewriting sentences that use tired devices and passive voice improve the writing itself and can make copyediting feel like a true partner in the writing process.
Remove “it” and “that.”
Most of the time, the words it, this, that, and these are lost opportunities in writing and are better off removed. Going through and highlighting (or better yet, removing) these words in the text and seeing how the sentences sound without them is a great way to realize their often unnecessary placement in writing. Just see the example above. It was is a lot less specific and powerful as a way to convey the sentence’s meaning than saying “the dog swam.” Find and replace all the dull, dead, or sluggish filler words to bring the prose to new life.
While copyediting can be tedious, these tips and tricks are great ways to revisit your copyediting project with fresh perspective. Rather than attempting to tackle a copyediting project head-on and fix all errors at once, take several read throughs and follow some of the advice listed above. It can be a lot easier to catch mistakes when you’re looking for a specific type, and at the end you’ll find your finished product to be much more polished for it. What’s more, the copyediting process is much simpler when you have a methodology to conduct it and when you have some ideas on how to revamp your technique. Next time you’ve got a huge copyediting project looming, try some of these tricks. It was copyediting that we shared with you today, right? No! We shared these copyediting tips with you. See what we did there? Happy editing!
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