BLOG: The Basics of Copyediting: A Step-By-Step Checklist

While writing requires hard work, the real-life secret to a quality written output is good editing. The art of copyediting is indispensable – this is what separates hastily written and incoherent paragraphs from a well-crafted and critically acclaimed masterpiece. Upon completion of an article, book, or any form of written literature, the first thing an author must do is to edit his/ her own writing. 

This starts with unleashing your skills in copyediting. This will increase your writing’s readability and overall quality. We have gathered some fresh ways to do basic editing that will surely help you in becoming a copyeditor.

How to Edit Your Own Writing

Writing offers us one of the rarest luxuries in life – a do-over. If we don’t get it right the first time, we can just go back and change what should have been. In conversing with people, there are only what could have beens and wishful thinking to redo or start over. If you can’t avail of professional copy editing services, the art of copyediting gives you almost unlimited tries to rewrite until you finally get it right.

Here’s a checklist to help you on becoming a copyeditor and gain professional copy editing skills.

  1. Your First Output Is Just A Draft

Yes, you read it right. You must understand that your initial work is not yet your final output. It doesn’t matter how great you are as a writer –  your first words are not final. Further, you have to make sure that everything is summed up in your conclusion paragraph and is clearly consistent with the introduction you wrote. You’ll obviously have to go back to each sentence.

Writers are only able to seem more intellectual than the readers because they’ve gone over and over again to rewrite the sentences and refine what they meant to say. Copyediting is not just done in one sitting – sometimes it takes days or weeks (for lengthy pieces of literature, research papers, theses, dissertation, etc.).

  1. Look Out For Usual Errors

Writers have the tendency to self-correct the errors read in a sentence. Sometimes, the grammar error is extremely obvious. Yet, in the eyes of the author, the word automatically becomes what you thought it would be. For example, you may be writing at such a fast pace. You start missing some words in the sentence and yet, every time you read the sentence, you don’t seem to notice what you missed out on. The same goes for spelling demons –  some spelling confusion that you thought you have already addressed will give you a headache once the output has been released or is ready for publishing.

You practice the art of copyediting to observe the grammar, check parallelism, look for punctuation and spelling errors, avoid dangling modifiers and run-on sentences, and the list goes on.

Some common errors to watch out for becoming a copyeditor are the following:

  • Excessive use of jargon and business tone

Overuse of jargon turns the readers off. For example, using “utilize” instead of “use” or “communicate” instead of “chat” to sound smart is a no-no. As Orwell said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.”

  • Using cliches in sentences

Here’s an advice: If you’re unsure if something already sounds cliche, just avoid it. Cliches are phrases that have lost their novelty and impact due to excessive use over time. These seem to bore the readers and switch their interest off.

  • Frequent use of passive voice

We have learned this in our basic English classes– the subject of the sentence should be the one taking action, not the thing being acted on. Keep your voice active and keep your tone energized and in action. A simple example of a sentence written in passive voice is: “The book was written by Mary.” To convert it into active voice (i.e., the subject is the doer of the action, you can say, “Mary wrote the book.”)

  • Repetitive rambling

One thing you must avoid is repetitive use of the same thoughts, ideas, or content. Writers sometimes resort to doing this when running out of words. But you must take note that this decreases the readability of your output.

  1. Take A Break And Give Your Work Some Space

When writing something, the writer gets so attached to the work that it becomes naturally hard to edit or see the flaws in the output. Walking away from your writing is a good idea. The longer you can leave the writing before copy editing it, the better.  It helps you see your own flaws when you read it with fresh new eyes (i.e., you did another activity, took a shower, went outside, etc. before trying to copy edit your work). Having a new outlook on your craft also awakens your professional copy editing skills.

  1. Cut “Unnecessaries”

Overwriting is a worse dilemma to have than underwriting. It’s relatively easier to add a few words or phrases than to select the right ones to stay. If a word is unnecessary, you must cut it. Embrace the art of copyediting. So the pro tip here to becoming a copyeditor is going over your output and trying to eliminate bits and pieces that don’t affect the whole thought. This will make the work clearer and more meaningful.

  1. Be Mindful Of Your Syntax

Professional copy editing includes being on the lookout for grammatical errors and incorrect word choices. Some words tend to change the tone or ambiance of the article or writing.

Use your thesaurus with caution. Using synonymous words from the thesaurus does not guarantee coherence with the mood of the whole piece. More so, there are different levels and contrasts associated with similar words. For example, “sad” is different from “depressed” or “lonely”. Each has its own context of usage as to the intensity of the emotion, situation, occurrence, being used in the sentence.  When unsure, don’t use the word.

Proofreading your whole output and considering the above checklist will help you level up in becoming a copyeditor. Consistently being mindful of these guidelines on the art of copyediting can help you drop the need for professional copy editing services for your written output.