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The importance of a good copy edit – even when you write for a living

Fuschia Hutton

Fuschia Hutton

PRO

It can be easy to underestimate the power of a good copy edit. Especially when you write for a living.

When working with direct clients, I usually include the option to include proofreading and/or editing. However, I break the price down so the client can see the cost and then make a decision whether they want to pay extra for another pair of professional eyes on their final copy or translation.

Most customers opt to go without an extra third-party revision. And I can understand this – after all, it costs more.

I’ve just finished a big website transcreation project that reminded me of the power of a good copy edit. Even though I was sure I had done a good job, and the client was happy with the copy, it added an extra polish and sparkle to the text.

This went beyond a proofread to capture spelling or grammatical errors. In the entire 10,000+ word project, there were just 2 spelling mistakes that I’d failed to capture in my own proofreads: the fiendish practice vs practise.

Like many people who commission proofreading or editing services, I’d fallen into the trap of thinking I just needed a proofread rather than an edit. But then my proofreader said he’d also scrutinise and flag any areas where the copy made him ‘stop the scroll’.

Let’s leave our ego at the door for a moment

It can be easy to think that professional writers do not need their work editing. But consider what goes into publishing a novel. Even the most accomplished writers are heavily edited before a final, published manuscript is produced.

It doesn’t mean that what they wrote was no good. But a fresh pair of eyes can help you improve the text in a way you didn’t envisage.

I actually love every opportunity to be edited – as long as I can learn from it. It can help nip bad habits in the bud, improve overall style, and just raise the quality of the final project.

In fact, I have made a commitment to get my work edited on a quarterly basis by different professionals as part of my professional development. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and by working with different people, I’ll expose myself to different approaches and ideas.

We can all fall into linguistic habits

These may not be incorrect per se, but through the course of a long piece of copy they can become repetitive. Annoying, even.

I take great pains to write as clearly and succinctly as possible, particularly when writing for an international audience. Good copy shouldn’t be complicated, or difficult to read.

However, I didn’t realise how often I used the word ‘but’, often while explaining a core benefit. The result of this? I was inadvertently introducing a slightly negative tone to my copy. Over time, this could be potentially off-putting and leave a negative taste in the reader’s mouth despite the overall message being positive.

I was also diligently adding a comma every time I started a sentence with ‘so’. Because Word told that’s what should be done. But it grated on my editor, giving me permission and confidence to ignore good old Word’s advice.

A fresh pair of eyes can help you express a tricky concept

A copy edit can also help capture concepts that could do with more clarity. While copywriters pride themselves on using clear language and uncomplicated sentences, when you’ve been working on a particular project you can forget that not everyone knows the product as well as you.

This is particularly true when you’re a business owner writing your own copy. You know your product or service inside-out. But does your audience?

Translators can also stumble at this point. It’s no secret that concepts and cultural norms don’t translate neatly between languages. Italian business culture can be bewilderingly bureaucratic, requiring all sorts of paperwork and official stamps. The translator needs to be sensitive to this: and that’s easier said than done when they are familiar with the original market themselves.

As a translator, working with a copy editor who doesn’t speak the source language is priceless

For my latest project, I deliberately chose a translator who does not work with Italian. The reason? Anything that sounded a bit Italian, or wasn’t clear to anyone unfamiliar with Italy, would immediately jar.

The result? He spotted a couple of ways that I could improve the quality and clarity of the final copy.

For all these reasons above, I much prefer to work with an editor for each project. But it’s important that the client has a choice. So from now on all my quotes will include an optional editing and or proofreading element. But take it from me: the increased investment is worth it.

What do you think?

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