Common challenges in copy editing and how to overcome them

Writing content for your business is one thing, but whipping it into shape so that it’s readable for your target audience is another.

From website copy to white papers, tender submissions to marketing materials, there’s no escaping the fact that copy editing content is as important as writing itself.

What is copy editing?

Simply put, copy editing is about making edits to ensure a piece of writing adheres to ‘the five Cs’ so that the final result is: clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.

Is copy editing difficult to do?

It can be. But then, tackling anything that isn’t part of your normal daily role is often difficult. Just because you’re an expert in fire engineering it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can produce a well-written article on the subject.

What are some of the challenges?

One major factor is it can be extremely difficult to edit your own work; you’re simply too close to it. You may even regard it as perfect as it is – a view that may not be shared by your readers, particularly if its full of industry jargon.

Furthermore, if a document has multiple contributors there’s likely to be a tangle of styles and tones, making it difficult to blend into one ‘voice’. There’s also likely to be a great deal of inconsistency in terminology.

Time is another challenge. Just writing the article, presentation or white paper can be challenging enough, let alone edit and polish it. Finding the time – and energy! – to do so can be a big ask.

Enter the professional copy editor.

What does a professional copy editor do?

Most importantly, a professional copy editor brings a fresh pair of eyes. Their impartiality is invaluable, allowing them to suggest changes most likely to attain those 5 Cs we mentioned earlier.

A copy editor will check content very carefully for mistakes such typos and grammatical errors. They’ll pounce on any wording that don’t make sense or could be improved. They’ll spot when there are missing or extra words or add words in where necessary. They’ll also make word substitutions to make content sharper, reduce ambiguity and avoid repetition. They may even move whole paragraphs around to a create a more logical flow.

Any top tips for having a crack at copy editing myself?

Sure! Here are five easy guidelines to get you off to a flying start.

  1. Read the content aloud. This will feel weird when you first do it, but it’ brilliant for picking up content that’s clumsy. If you’re stumbling over your words – a sure sign that content is bumpy and uneven – then you can be sure the audience will stumble over reading it, too. Highlight this content but don’t change anything until you’ve read the whole thing.
  2. Keep a list. Lots of spelling and style queries will arise as you’re doing your read through. Resist the urge to address these immediately or you’ll lose focus. Jot them down, keep reading, address everything at the end.
  3. Try to reduce the word count by 25 per cent. A sure fire way to ensure content is concise and precise, you’ll be surprised at how many unnecessary words there are. Words such as ‘will’, ‘be’, ‘are’ and ‘that’ can very often be deleted without changing meaning.

And how about these typical word-wasting phrases?

Original Change toWord saving
In order to be able toTo5
This being the caseTherefore3
As to whetherWhether2
During the course of the studyDuring the study3
The majority ofMost2
The fact of the matter isThe fact is3

In these examples, there’s a copy editing saving of 18 words or 64 per cent right there!

  1. Another good copy editing technique is to break long paragraphs into shorter paragraphs. Use paragraph breaks or bullet points. This also helps to reduce ‘reader fatigue’ by making reading easier on the eyes.
  2. Leave formatting to the end. If you’ve moved text around to create a better narrative flow this may have affected the layout. Only once you’re happy with the wording – that you’ve stuck to the ‘five Cs’ – should you turn your attention to formatting. Doing as you go will waste time and send you crazy.

And finally…

If you’re keen to ensure your business communications are the best they can be, seriously consider engaging one of Proof Communications’ experienced copy editors to do it for you. We’re only a phone call away. Call us on 02 8036 5532 or 0448 566 377 or head to our contact page.

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