My job, as I see it, is a simple one: I help authors of pretty much anything look and sound as smart as they are.
What do I mean by that? I read and correct others’ writing. I rearrange words, I check proper nouns for accuracy, I check the flow of ideas, I check the physical look of the work, and I add and remove punctuation like semicolons (please stop using them) and commas constantly.
Are we smarter than most writers? Yes, in certain ways.
We’re usually very focused on the actual words used to convey a meaning. We’re aware of the punctuation and usage rules for our own language (which are not always the same for all versions of any language), we know when a rule is necessary and when it can be ignored for best effect, and we’re usually able to spot a typo at 50 paces.
We’re a lot like the kid in the movie “The Sixth Sense” who saw dead people. We see typos everywhere. We wince, wishing the authors had either done a better job proofing their own material … or had found someone else to do it.
Sometimes we know very little about the topic we’re working on; that’s the writer’s job, after all. We often marvel at what others know that we were completely unaware of – in science, technology, languages, organizational structure, social media – you name it; we learn about it as we help our authors shine.
Recently I read a LinkedIn article on organizational structure and found several typos in the first few paragraphs. And although the author knows a lot about the topic, the typos might have some readers wondering … what the heck?
The ones I saw are typical of what can derail even the best writing:
1. Missing words. There’s nothing easier to fix than missing words; after all, it just means we should read our words carefully, one by one. It is our professional reputation that’s at stake, so if we’re smart, we take the time to be sure we’ve written all the words we intended to.
Best advice: Put your writing away for at least a few minutes – as many as you can spare – and then reread it. Fresh eyes will spot more issues than tired ones.
2. Broken words at the end of each line with just two or three letters in front of the hyphen. Breaking a long word into syllables is fine, but if all you have are two or three letters at the end of the line, put the entire word on the next line. It will look far more professional. All those hyphens at the ends of lines in a paragraph drag it down; they look messy, and because readers can’t always tell quickly what the word actually is, they may lose their focus on the writer’s ideas.
3. Misused homophones, because the writer trusted spellcheck. Seems/seams. Do/due. It’s/its. There/they’re/their.
Spellcheck does one/won thing only: it checks spelling. It cannot and does not/knot/naught check usage. But/butt/butte many writers hit “publish” because they don’t see/sea any words flagged by/bye spellcheck, so/sew they believe that they’ve done/dun everything right/rite/wright/write.
4. Missing punctuation, often the second half of those that come in pairs: parentheses, quotation marks, and brackets. It’s easy to start a long group of words with the first half and forget the second half that is necessary for completeness.
5. Too much italics, which makes many readers cranky. Occasional use is fine, but if you’re trying to highlight important information and you use italics constantly, nothing will stand out as important; it’ll all be a blur.
I believe I speak for all copyeditors when I say that our only job is to help you – the author – shine. It’s all about YOU and YOUR smarts, not ours.
We want you to look and sound as smart as you are.