While closely related, these services have distinct differences. I can help a client determine which are required.
Typically, editors reorganize and rewrite the submitted original. I can provide a gentle critique and suggestions for improvement to the author, or I can undertake the entire rewrite myself.
Copyeditors correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation of a document, its consistency and style, and the formatting before it is typeset. I can provide a marked hard copy or revised electronic file with attached comments.
After the material is typeset proofreaders check for typographical and mechanical errors in the final proofs. Today's modern word processors have just about combined copyediting and proofreading into one process.
Occasionally a client will ask me to edit a translation by another translator and compare it with original Russian document. This takes almost as long as a complete retranslation, sometimes even longer. If I understanding the subject well enough, I will accept the assignment only after agreeing on the level of this service.
My interest in editorial pursuits began in the Dark Ages of my junior high school years: I edited the school's mimeographed monthly. That spark flared brighter when the local newspaper hired me to sweep up after school. That gave me a close-up of the stages of the journalistic process.
I especially liked watching the linotype operator transform hot lead into line after line of type. After the press run I would take the ink-smudged type to the alley behind the shop, melt it in a cast-iron kettle, and pour it into molds so that the five-pound bars could be recycled into fresh type for the newspaper's next issue.
My high school didn't offer journalism classes, but I worked on the school's weekly newspaper all four years, donning the Editor's hat as a Senior. That year I wrote my first set of guidelines to help the staff produce a more professional paper.
In the years since then I've edited and laid out a number of small-scale publications, mostly for nonprofit civic and professional organizations. I've also written articles for publication, but found I enjoy the editing process more than writing original pieces myself.
Throughout my editing career, I've developed some definite ideas about writing and presentation techniques, and I love to give advice. So take 'em or leave 'em, here are some tips for your consideration. Naturally, every publication has its own requirements, so I won't be offended if you decide not to follow my advice.
1. Today's computer spell checkers make it easy to avoid embarrassing typographical errors. Grammar checkers may also help, although they do not always give the best advice. Neither can replace solid knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It takes a human to catch and correct misused homonyms (it's vs. its, your vs. you're, etc.) or typos that coincidentally spell the wrong word correctly and your spell checker will not flag. Polish your style with guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style, and read Strunk & White's classic Elements of Style once a year.
2. Watch out for bad habits. You may like dashes, for example, but in many cases a colon would be a better choice if your dash introduces a sentence element. Commas or parentheses may be better for asides. But don't trade one bad habit for another. Too many expressions in parentheses break the continuity of your writing. And sprinkling quotation marks or italicized words throughout the text probably means you've chosen weak words that need this artificial emphasis.
3. On a hard copy mark every equation-type sentence, one that uses the verb "to be" or other linking verbs like "to appear," "to seem," or "to become." Replace them with concrete verbs when you can.
4. Avoid passive voice. Recast the sentence with an active verb. For example, change "the bicyclist was struck by a green Buick" to the active "a green Buick struck the bicyclist."
5. Look at the big picture. Consider reorganizing the article. The lead paragraph should hook readers and encourage them to continue. Sometimes the writer's concluding paragraph would make a better lead. A formal summarizing conclusion is not always necessary. Sometimes it's best just to stop.
6. Put each sentence on a diet. Take out the redundancy in both words and ideas. Substitute plain language for convoluted sentences that go on forever. Reading the text out loud will often help you recognize awkward constructions and overly long sentences. If you can't read a sentence with one breath, consider splitting it.
7. Zero in on overused buzzwords (like "buzzwords"). Try to say the same thing in a fresh way, but don't strain so hard that you resort to inappropriate metaphors.
8. Write for your readers. Folksy exhortation ("Hey, gang! Let's put on a show!") may not come across well in a newsletter aimed at professionals. On the other hand, esoteric terms and acronyms may fly right over the head of a layperson.
9. Use the inverted pyramid scheme for news reports: put the most important paragraph at the beginning and lesser information in descending order, so that the least important paragraphs at the end may be omitted if space limitations dictate. Be sure to mention the five Ws + H (who, what, where, when, why, and how) near the top of the story, if not in the lead. Finally, use direct quotes. They personalize a story and introduce names, an important element of news.
10. If you work with an author, suggest changes as gently as possible. A writer's sensitive skin may be bruised by your unintentionally brusque commentary.
© R. Michael Conner 1999–2001. All rights reserved.