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  • Writer's pictureBarbra A. Rodriguez

How a Copy Editor Helps Polish Content

Every time you compose an email, or create a feature story or longer content, you showcase your communication style. Unless you’ve already undergone a lot of editing, though, you could likely benefit from help developing your writings. Why? Your word choices impact how audiences respond to books and other content, helping determine whether they purchase and share copies with others, as well as whether they follow you and purchase from you in the future.

Trust in the author is a huge part of what good writing fosters. Even though how well someone communicates isn't a reflection of intelligence, clear writing takes less time to digest, and readers tend to be drawn to writers who write succinctly and in an engaging, informative style. Pulling off eloquence is tough without input from an experienced copy editor (who hopefully does writing of their own).

What does an editor do to add a secret sauce to your style recipe? At the big picture level, an editor works to preserve your voice, while also serving as a bridge to ensure that your voice rings true in the ear of the reader on the other side of the word divide. Here are some of the reasons that copy editors consider word choices, tweak punctuation, and make other style updates as part of furthering a reader’s appreciation of your content:

Keeping Text Consistent

Part of an editor’s work is ensuring your word use is consistent for names, concepts, page numbers and more. Do you spell “gray” like Americans do, or is your audience mostly European, and “grey” is preferred? Will you use “earth” whenever you refer to the soil, but “Earth” for the planet? If an author has a brunette with the surname of “Smyth” in chapter two, readers might raise their eyebrows about the “Smith” in chapter twelve who seems to be the same lady. Ensuring consistency in details like this helps readers relax into knowing that a manuscript has been developed thoughtfully.

Furthering Coherence in Other Ways

Matching the formality of the text to the topic is another editorial priority. Speaking of the “racks of gray-coated tomes in the library” might set the perfect tone for an adult murder mystery, for instance, whereas “shelves of dusty books” could work better in a children’s reader about developing your first essay.

Helping you to nail the appropriate point of view for different sections of a book, and ensuring the audience can follow you when you change point of view, might also come up as needing to be an editorial focus.

Making Clarity King

It’s not uncommon for editors to help overcome awkward writing that makes it tough for readers to follow your thoughts. For instance, young writers often don’t know how much to repeat key terms and might overuse a word when another could be swapped in at times to add energy. Confusing prepositional phrases, or too many of them peppered into text, can also frustrate readers, as can overused clichés and mixed metaphors.

Catching PC Goofs

Editors can also point out words that may be off-putting to readers so you can double-check whether you want to retain them. For instance, unless there’s the right historical focus to your content, you’d likely alienate some readers by using the term “oriental” to refer to people rather than to furniture (an editor like me with a multicultural background and training as a sensitivity reader can uncover potentially objectionable content).

Providing a Style Reference Document

To help you follow the style changes an editor has suggested, certified editors like me have training to develop a style guide for authors to reference. This guide helps you to understand how an editor approached text, such as words that can be written in more than one way, punctuation options, and such. Often, editors will use a general style guide (such as The Chicago Manual of Style for books) as their first reference on style choices; the style guide they develop for you will mostly cover changes from that guide that are particular to your manuscript and to your writing style.

Besides making it easier to review your current manuscript, a style guide becomes a big time saver with future content that is intended to match the initial manuscript’s style (I have developed them for self-published authors and the annual report of a geological sciences unit of a university, for instance). Having a style guide in your reference collection can thus serve as a step to building a long-term writing career.

By Barbra A. Rodriguez

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