Why use a copyeditor indeed.

I’m not a big re-blogger (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve done it here before…certainly very few times). But this post crossed my desk courtesy of the Editorial Freelancers Association (of which I am a member), and it’s worth sharing.

Holly Robinson, an author of books, articles, and essays, recently published the following short but very appreciative and accurate post about how important good copyediting really is:

In Praise of Copy Editors

That’s right. Copyeditors aren’t only about making sure everything is spelled correctly; that your use of numerals versus spelled numbers is consistent; that your verb tenses make sense; and that your punctuation doesn’t lead to unintentional confusion (or comic results). Lord knows, we do an awful lot of that sort of work.

More important to many projects, we act as a second head on your shoulders: not simply that “second pair of eyes” writers always talk about, but in fact a complete second brain, one that’s there to filter, sort, compare, index, and fact check when your own memory for the details might not be entirely up to the task. (Or maybe you just can’t be bothered to look things up. That’s okay — doing it for you is part of what we do.)

Holly is spot-on with the kind of things we work to catch and correct in the name of making the author look better. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve snagged little errors of the kind she highlights: wrong days of the week, fluctuating time of day, age of a character, hair or eye color, the weather, character name (or spelling) changes, position of objects critical to the action in a scene, and so on. I’m especially a stickler for technology and anachronistic speech, and often root out misuses of both that have gone unnoticed by earlier readers.

There’s an infamous error in Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the “Robinson” overlap with Holly is pure coincidence). Near the start of Chapter IV, Crusoe strips off his clothes and swims out to the wreck of his ship — where shortly thereafter he fills his pockets (!) with biscuit from the ship’s stores. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but it’s a pretty safe bet that a good copyeditor wouldn’t have let such a snicker-inducing gaffe slip by.

Thanks, Holly. Copyeditors are used to being unsung heroes, but this one isn’t about to turn his nose up at the unsolicited shout-out you’ve given us.


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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3 Responses to Why use a copyeditor indeed.

  1. Too true, Chris and Holly. It’s also true that snicker-worthy tidbits can be found in broadcast news reports. There’s corker that does the rounds among journos in Australia now and again. A reporter was at a crime scene where a man had been decapitated, his head missing. The reporter, crossing to the news program, said: “The murdered man was lying face down…”. I can barely watch the news here now. Too many young journalists/reporters have decided that the consonant ‘t’ isn’t worth a cracker. They say ‘impordant’, ‘cerdain’, and the like. We have one lovely young lady who, every night, begins the weather report with “Good evening” using all three syllables. It sound weird but she is probably more correct than the rest of us who may have a habit of lazily dropping one or two syllables. Then she goes on to say cerdain charts are impordant ….. It drives me mad!!! Love reading blogs about grammar and more. Keep writing! Best wishes, Kathryn from Sydney. (Journalist)

  2. Bugger. Nine lines into my comment there’s a glaring error! Oh, the shame.

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