3 fantastic copy-editing tricks of the trade

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Before I present to you these nuggets of writer wisdom, understand that I present them not from a position of superiority but instead from a position of weakness. When I was a young reporter and editor for a pair of small-town publications in Oklahoma and Texas, I pored over a lot of copy.

But I had time, relatively speaking.

When I made the move to digital, speed became the differentiator. I had to work fast, and that meant I didn’t have nearly the time to copy edit my work. Lucky for me, I had access to a wonderful team of copy editors for my first several years in digital. They schooled me on the basics, and they saved me a lot of headaches. A good copy editor is like the left tackle is to a right-handed quarterback.

They protect your blind side.

What do you do if you “ain’t got nobody” as David Lee once sang?

I’m sure you might have your tricks. Please add them to the comments below.

But here are mine, and I assure you they work.

First copy-editing hack: Read your copy out loud. I don’t mean whisper it under your breath. I mean vocalize the copy you’re reading, even if it annoys your cubicle buddy, not that any of us are working in cubicles during the pandemic. There’s something about reading copy out loud that will help you stumble upon mistakes that your eyes haven’t caught.

I should note: The types of mistakes I’m looking to save you from are basic. Spelling. Typos. They’re-their-there and you’re-your.

Reading your copy out loud is great for catching those mistakes.

Second copy-editing hack: Read your copy backward, word by word. This is a terrific technique for catching misspelled words. Ask me how I know (fat fingers).

Third copy-editing hack: This is going to sound really stupid, and I’m willing to get heckled for this one. However, I’ve only done this for 25 years.

Put your eyes as close to the copy as possible and squint into the words. There is something about doing this that forces your brain to engage with the words in front of you.

Does this result in perfection? It can, but I also know that we’re not afforded the luxury of executing each one of these techniques every time we write. What I can guarantee is that if you add a couple of these to your editing habits, your typos and spelling errors will decrease.

But if you’re lucky enough to have a full-time copy editor?

Buy them a beer. They’re the real MVPs.

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