The task of reviewing, editing and revising a document can be really challenging. It is difficult to notice the problems and figure out what changes need to be made. If someone asks you to review and edit a document for them, they may end up unhappy with your revision choices. Becoming a good editor needs hard work and a lot of finesse, but some tips can help you face the task easier.
1. Homonyms are the most common error
It is not difficult to check your own typos during the writing process, but there are some words and phrases that go unnoticed by the editing radar. The most common mistakes that slip through are wrong words that sound similar to the proper ones. If someone else looks at the piece with a more careful editing eye, they will be able to notice and correct those errors without much effort.
2. Measure twice and cut once!
You have surely heard of the old saying “measure twice and cut once”. Translated into the language of editors, this means to plan carefully before you take any editing action. The best way to work as an editor is to read the writing without making any changes at first. This will help you understand the writer’s tone and voice and make sure to keep their individuality recognizable after the editing is done.
You can also ask the writer for any ideas or suggestions on the editing. Some writers just want their editors to make sure everything is spelled properly, some want the writing to be expanded and others want the editors to ensure that all information is correct.
3. Don’t guess when you need to be informed!
Sometimes you spot a mistake that is obviously wrong, but you cannot think of the right way to correct it without informing yourself more on the issue. If the writing is on a subject that is not your strong side, but you notice some inconsistencies through it, you will have to be sure before you make any changes. You can make notes in the document and contact the writer to ask for an opinion, you can research the Internet or consult someone who can provide you with the proper information.
4. Make style corrections when needed
Sometimes it is inevitable to make certain style corrections. For example, the Associated Press stylebook made an announcement last year that writing “email” is preferred over “e-mail”. However, the New York Times reporters continue to write “e-mail”, since this institution has its own style guide. For some corrections there isn’t a universally right answer because it’s a matter of style. If you don’t have information about the writer’s style guide during the editing process, you should use your (or the writer’s) preferred version, but make sure there is consistency throughout the entire document.
5. Avoid changes based solely on preference
When you have a job to review the work of people who aren’t professional writers, you may fall into the trap of making changes based on your personal opinions and preferences. Your job as a copyeditor is to simply clean up the mess; and you have to make sure not to change the meaning of the original sentences.
For example, your boss would be greatly offended if you changed the entire report without allowing him to take pride in his writing skills. This is the time when you need to make only necessary changes. Sometimes, when your editing radar catches a sentence you don’t like, you should make sure that it is definitely wrong before you change it. Avoid changing the sentences into something that you would write. The writer’s tone and voice has to be considered at all times.
The Chicago Manual of Style has a clear definition on copyediting: it is an “ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.” This means that when you are reviewing someone else’s work, you should stay away from making changes that you cannot defend. The writer knows why he wrote a certain phrase in a certain manner, and if he asks you to defend your changes, you cannot say “according to my preferences”, or “it sounded better to me”.
Editing is not an easy work, but it helps everyone at the end. It makes the writer look more polished and smarter; the reader gets to read a better text and the editor gets to do the job he loves and develop new skills.
Sandra Miller is writer, lives at New York. Two times a year watches Friends sitcom, loves salsa. Uses editing service Help.Plagtracker to write great material. Her passion is Latin American culture.