Copyediting is less about grammar than it is about style, flow and clarity.
You have your content, but will it carry?
Writing demands focus. You’ve nurtured your project for hours, days or longer. It’s complete, but how sure are you that it’s readable? Due to your proximity to the project, you will have to wait hours or days to make that crucial determination. Even then, it will still be too fresh, too precious to interrogate brutally.
Relying on a professional copyeditor is to ensure that your tone (and passion), style and flow work for – not against – your content. It’s their job to make you look good, and they do that by cherishing your content, but being prepared to kill your darling so it will reach your audience.
Can’t I ask a friend?
Hmmm. Good question. A friend might save you some cash. Before you text them immediately, ask yourself these 5 questions:
- How important is your project?
- Is your friend prepared to invest a significant portion their time for little/no remuneration?
- Can your friend be brutally honest with you? And, can you handle such feedback from a friend?
- Do they have the experience to juggle style and content?
- Will you meet your deadline?
Learning to write for your audience
What if you learned to write better? Would you still need a copyeditor? You can certainly hone your skills by practicing often, brushing up on your grammar theory and allotting more time and attention to your project. All of this will contribute to making your work proof-ready. That is, for verifying grammar, spelling, punctuation and word choice. However, this is not copyediting!
The above ven diagram illustrates how proofreading and copyediting differ from one another, and how they overlap. Working with a copyeditor to improve your text will expose your writing habits. Your awareness of your style will develop, and you will discover how to avoid slipping down the same rabbit holes. [As I write this my rabbit is resting on the cushion between my chair back and my back, so forgive the Alice in Wonderland reference]. You could therefore consider hiring a copyeditor as an opportune moment to learn and enhance your skillset.
What can you expect from the process?
An edit can involve some rephrasing of passages, reworking of complex sentences to improve readability or clarity of the argument, flagging and eliminating word repetition, ensuring factual accuracy and refining overall structure. It involves some vulnerability as Track Changes in Word or Pages ften leaves the work looing butchered. Don’t you fear, it is only used to give you the full picture of what has been changed. It is not a reflection of your competence or intelligence. You will also need to be somewhat available (electronically) as there might be a bit of going back and forth between you and the editor to get particular passages just right.
Note that although a copy edit will correct typos and other basic errors, some mistakes will still slip through, and some new ones will probably also be created in the editing and approval process. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you also add a final proofread before publishing. This can often also be successfully achieved by the copywriter.
Proofreading and copyediting are a part of the process. Skipping these steps is a disservice to the potential of your writing. So give yourself and your project what it’s worth and leave your writing in the hands of an experienced copyeditor.