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The Habits of Highly Effective Copyeditors - 7/11/2011 -

When editors become complacent, errors are left to fester on the page. Your reader deserves more than a hasty once-over by a deadline-laden copyeditor.

By Brent Thomas

Whatís the difference between a great editor and a proofreader? No, itís not an industry joke, but rather the focus of an Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting session on "The Habits of Highly Effective Copyeditors,Ē led by Joe Rominiecki, managing editor, newsletters, ASAE; Samantha Whitehorne, managing editor, ASAE; and Lisa Junker, director of publications and custom media, Stratton Publishing & Marketing. According to the content leaders, great editors look beyond typos and style guides to explore the finer points of copyediting, thus differentiating themselves from the ranks of mere proofreaders.

I know what youíre asking yourself: How much will this information cost me? If it were tangible, it would be worth several times its weight in gold. Luckily, you cannot put a price (aside from registration fees) on such an invaluable skillset as effective copyediting.

The first piece of advice is the key to any good relationship: mistrust. Specifically, learn to mistrust yourself. When editors become complacent, errors are left to fester on the page. Instead of skimming through the copy like yesterdayís news, slow down and take a minute to doubt yourself. As slaves to the production schedule, this may seem not only frustrating, but downright impossible. However, remember that the copyeditor is the last line of defense, and your reader deserves more than a hasty once-over. And aside from the usual typos and grammar blunders, it is essential to double-check meaning and context.

Itís also important to remember that you canít remember everything. You donít need to memorize your style guide. It is meant to be a reference guide, so feel justified in referencing it.

With effective general practices out of the way, the session proceeded to focus on "the basics.Ē After all, the easiest things to fix are the easiest to miss. For instance, names, titles, and designations are common in association publishing; remain consistent to avoid confusion or embarrassing discrepancies. Also, pronouns (their and his/her/it); relative pronouns (that and which); and abbreviations (i.e. and e.g.) might seem self-explanatory, but are often overlooked to the chagrin of copyeditors everywhere. Again, the important thing is to remain vigilant and consistent.

Next up was punctuation. Effective punctuation helps guide readers through treacherous terrain on the path to comprehension. Use hyphens with potentially misleading words and phrases. Keep correlative conjunctions parallel. Punctuate lists appropriately and consistently. Forget the apostrophe when dealing with pronouns, letters, dates, etc. Reconsider using that em dash. Donít forget about or overuse semicolons. And please, donít splice sentences with commas. These rules and suggestions are far from novel, but it never hurts to brush up on the particulars of punctuation.

The content leaders then went through a list of the "finer pointsĒ to remember. From word choice to misplaced modifiers, these suggestions ran the gamut of style and structure. For instance, always double-check the numbers when dealing with math. Watch out for shifts in perspective. Avoid bogging down your writing with jargon and clichés. Keep tabs on your indefinite pronouns. And just to lay the argument to rest, feel free to split infinitives.

Two principal habits of highly effective copyeditors were stressed throughout this session: Strive for consistency and remain vigilant. Try posting your style guide on a wiki to further promote these habits across your association. After all, not everyone is passionate about the fine art of copyediting ó as surprising as that may be.

For additional resources related to this session, please visit http://bit.ly/amp11copyeditors.

Brent Thomas is editorial coordinator at Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). Association Media & Publishing thanks him for covering this Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.


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