Copy Editors Tips

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Should I hire a web copy editor for my site?

What a Good Web Copy Editor Can Do For You

Many business owners underestimate the power of copy on their Web sites. While clever animation and other visual tactics may add pizzazz to your site, it is strong copy that acutally sells your product or service.

Invest in a good Web copy editor who can weed through unnecessary language that clutters up your site. Streamlining your message is the best way to increase traffic to your site and improve your business. It's the Web copy editor's job to do just that.

What is one of the most difficult parts of being a freelance copy editor?

The Editorial Eye

Freelance copy editors need to be able to understand the tone and voice that a company uses in order to fine-tune copy. Developing an editorial eye for this can take time. As a freelancer, you'll need to be able to switch this skill over from one client to another and make sure that you can stay on track with multiple projects. If you have more than one thing going, keep a set of notes for each client to remind yourself of any important points.

As a freelancer, you may find yourself working for a company as a contractor from time to time. In this case, you won't have to multitask in the same way, but you'll need to learn the style and voice of the company so that you can edit copy to their specifications. Learning and sticking to a company's particular style and voice is usually the hardest part of the job.

What is the ACES?

The American Copy Editors Society

The American Copy Editors Society (ACES) is a professional organization of copy editors. It is dedicated to improving the quality of journalism and the working lives of journalists.

The ACES functions to improve the standards of copy editing and increase the value the news industry places on the craft. Primarily, it focuses on newspaper copy editing. However, it also welcomes all other copy editors, including students of the craft.

Is being a freelance copy editor harder than doing it for a company?

Copy Editing as a Freelancer

If you're thinking about becoming a freelance copy editor, be prepared for what clients will expect from you. Many corporate copy editor jobs have fairly clear roles, but as a freelancer, these lines tend to blur a bit. Copy editors can be called on to do a wide variety of things, and if you're working for yourself, it can be a bit challenging.

The typical duties of a copy editor involve things such as reviewing text for any errors in grammar, sentence structure, and tone. In some cases, the copy editor also serves as a "fact checker," verifying information or checking source material. As a freelancer, you may also be asked to format copy and do some layout work, which are responsibilities that you may not have had working at a corporation.

You can solve this dilemma in two ways. The first is to work with another person who has these skills. The other way is to take a class or find online training materials. That way, if you have a client with high expectations, you'll be able to take on the project with confidence.

How much copy should be in an ad?

The Poetry of Advertising

Ad copy is not fiction. The best copy editors use language sparingly and effectively to communicate an advertising message.

Much like a poem, there is no room for excessive text. When there are too many words, the main point is lost. Keep ads lean and mean.

How important is meeting a deadline as a freelance copy editor?

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

Aside from being accurate, meeting deadlines is the most important thing you can do as a freelance copy editor. Your clients rely on you to provide material in a timely fashion. Whatever deadline is agreed upon, be sure to include it in the contract or work-for-hire agreement you and your client have drawn up.

You can even improve your chances of getting more work if you present a completed project before its deadline. With a reputation for fast and accurate turnaround, your freelance career will surely improve.

Do I need to update my website content?

Refreshing Your Web Content

Consider how often your site needs to be updated when hiring a Web copy editor. Web sites must refresh to maintain the interest of customers.

Some Web sites need constant refreshing of content. Be sure to discuss the topic of refreshing and what the rates and deadlines are associated with this task.

How well do copy editors need to know the language?

Copy Editors & Language

Copy Editors know your language! This is a job that almost requires you to have been the grammar snob in high school. Every good wordsmith has mastered the use of language.

Your ability to express yourself in words and punctuate correctly can make or break an entire ad campaign.

How can I improve my skills as a copy editor?

Versatility As A Copy Editor

A copy editor must be versatile. The ability to adapt to the specific requirements of each project is a must. For example, a job copy editing software programs obviously requires knowing a word processing program inside and out. Yet, familiarity with programs such as Quark also enables you to make changes in the layout of an article or advertisement if need be.

*A little knowledge goes a long way as a freelancer.

What is the difference between a copy writer and a copy editor?

Copy Writers vs. Copy Editors

There is often confusion about the difference between a freelance copy editor and a freelance copywriter. The following pointers will clear up the confusion.

• Copy writers and copy editors are masters of language. Both use words to the height of their rhetorical power to send a message to an audience.

• Copy writers create effective and influential text. This, however, is where their job ends.

• A copy editor steps in to clean up, fact check and doctor copy to give the final product the necessary polish. This usually involves proofreading as well.

How important are headlines in the copy editing business?

The Crowning Touch of Headlines

A quick way to check the skill level of a potential copy editor is to view the headlines in his or her portfolio. Believe it or not, writing effective headlines is a cornerstone of the copy editor profession. That is because a copy editor must sum up an entire piece in a few short words, all with a conscious effort to "sell" it to a reader.

So be sure to hire a copy editor who has experience in the fine art of headline writing.

What if I have a lot of copy to be edited but cannot afford two copy editors?

Two For One

Does your company need a vast amount of copy editing done on a shoestring budget? Consider hiring an intern along with a freelance copy editor.

What does a fact checker do?

Fact Checking

If you enjoy research and can do it quickly, fact checking might be a useful addition to your editorial career. A fact checker usually receives a finished document on deadline, and must verify information in it, working with the author, the editor(s), and reliable sources of information. Sometimes all a fact checker does is save embarrassment -- verifying quantities in a recipe, dates of battles, or names of obscure people. Other times a fact checker's work can prevent a lawsuit.

Steps in fact checking include:

  • Gathering relevant reference works and other sources of information
  • Marking up the document to note items needing to be checked
  • Compiling list of items checked and sources used for each one
  • Correcting any incorrect items
  • Compiling list of questions for writer or sources

What is a style sheet?

Style Sheets

A style sheet is a list of spelling, punctuation and other points of editing, with decisions about each item. An organization might have a style sheet that applies to all its documents, or a publishing house might have a separate style sheet for each book or series of books.

Usually, a style sheet is backed by one of the major editorial style manuals, such as Associated Press (AP), Harvard Stylebook or Chicago Stylebook. So if you come across any point that isn't covered in the style sheet, you'll apply the manual's style. Whenever the local style sheet and the manual disagree, the local style sheet wins.

You may have also come across the term in reference to Web pages. Web developers borrowed "style sheet" to refer to a list of colors, typefaces and designs that can be embedded in a Web document or stored in one place for an entire site.

What is the difference between a copy editor and a proofreader?

Copy Editing vs. Proofreading

While many freelance editors do both copy editing and proofreading, they are different aspects of the same job.

A copy editor sees a manuscript before it is prepared for publication, and may raise substantive issues such as breaking some material off into a sidebar, or reorganizing the piece into more logical sections.

The term "proofreading" comes from the publishing world, where "proofs" show the manuscript set into type and ready to be bound into books. At this point, it is possible to correct small errors, but more difficult to correct large ones. Even today, many presses release a set of proofs and allow the author to change only a certain percentage of the pages before the final product is printed. Proofreading, therefore, is more focused on printing issues such as spacing and consistent typography, along with correcting minor errors in spelling and punctuation.

What should go in my freelance editing portfolio?

Building Your Copy Editing Portfolio

A portfolio isn't a necessity for an editor with experience and good references. Many organizations will administer a copy-editing test rather than asking for samples. Still, assembling a portfolio may be a useful marketing tool, particularly if you expect to do a great deal of work outside of established publishing channels.

Things that go in your freelance editing portfolio:

  • Samples of headlines
  • At least one story presented in a before-and-after version (be sure the "after" version is perfect, readable and shorter than the "before")
  • Samples of other types of editing you've done -- news briefs, obituaries, any specialty fields in which you work.
  • Sample Web or print page designs, if you are marketing layout skills as part of your services.
  • An attractive, easy-to-read business card.
  • Of course, an excellent (and letter-perfect) resume and cover letter.
Once your portfolio is done, put it on your Web site (you DO have a Web site, don't you?) in PDF form for easy printing, and in an easy-to-read Web format.

How can I find organizations that might hire me?

Know Your Clients

Good research skills are a useful part of a copy editor's arsenal -- starting with the first pitch to a potential client. Don't just send your resume to the HR director. Find out who is in charge of hiring freelancers and make sure you pitch that person directly.

Use your past experiences to target your pitches. If you've edited your church newsletter and the assistant pastor's resume, try building on that experience to see if your denomination, your local seminary, or a religious press might need your services.

Before you pitch a potential client, do whatever you can to get hold of samples of previous work the organization has published. The Internet is probably the easiest place to start -- don't neglect the organization's own Web site! You may need to make a trip to a public library, bookstore, or academic library to see samples in person. Use what you learn to better market your experience and skills to the organization's needs.

How can I get started as a freelancer?

Starting Out as a Freelance Copy Editor

Many publications have lists of freelance editors they rely on for their regular needs. Others hire former co-workers or hire through their networks. So how can a newcomer get jobs?

  • Use your own network. If you don't know anyone in the publishing or media industries, maybe you know someone who does. It doesn't hurt to ask "Who hires freelance editors in your organization?"
  • Build your network. Join or start a group of media and publishing professionals in your area. See if there's a local chapter of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES).
  • There are several sites online (Craigslist, and, among others) that offer private copy editing jobs to the low bidder. While the quality of the clientele and projects varies widely, you may be able to find portfolio-building jobs this way. You probably won't be able to charge top dollar, but you will have some projects under your belt with which to prove yourself.
  • Use your past experiences to specialize. If you've worked in health care or a technical field, pitch your skills to publications and Web sites in those areas. If your expertise is in child care or teaching, pitch to parenting publications or educational publishing companies.
  • Let your friends and family know you're available as an editor. Even your cousin's resume or Dad's holiday letter to his clients can help fill out your portfolio.

What are the skills I need as a copy editor?

Editorial Freelancer's Skill Set

Editorial freelancers need more than just a love of words to get work -- although that helps. Here are some skills to look for when you're hiring and build up when you're job-hunting:

  • Microsoft Word (including the Reviewing and Track Changes functions, which are standard copy editing tools)
  • XML and HTML for Web-based editing assignments
  • Knowledge of various styles including AP, APA and Chicago Manual
  • Wide general knowledge
  • Expertise in specialized content areas
  • Advanced knowledge of English grammar and spelling (some knowledge of languages other than English is helpful as well)
  • Publishing programs such as Microsoft Publisher, Quark Xpress, PageMaker, Adobe InDesign
  • Web publishing programs (Macromedia Dreamweaver is probably the most popular)
  • Web content management systems (these can range from arcane proprietary systems at large companies to simple wiki or blogging software)
  • Libel and other legal issues that may come up in the publishing field. If it has been a while since you reviewed this material, a refresher book or course may be in order, as legal issues have changed a great deal with the rise of Internet publishing.

What is technical editing?

Technical Copy Editing

Technical editing is a term for editing within a specialty field such as medicine, computer science or engineering. While it is helpful to take a technical writing or technical editing course (available online and through some universities), it may be even more helpful to have direct experience in the field in which you want to work.

A skilled and experienced technical editor can command higher pay than a generalist editor, so if there is a technical field that interests you, it will be worthwhile to develop this specialty. As you market your business, make it a point to pay attention to recent news governing your subject area and the current publication environment in that area.

What people skills do I need as a freelance copy editor?

People Skills for Copy Editors

It is not difficult to become a freelancer. Anyone can print up cards saying "freelance editor." Editorial directors and other hiring managers have little time to get to know freelancers, which is one reason they often hire from within their own networks.

They know there are many intelligent, capable freelancers out there -- along with a few who are incompetent or just plain crazy, and who can waste an editor's time and energy far beyond any value they bring to the organization.

So one of your jobs as a freelancer will be to convey professionalism with every communication. Don't pester editors who have told you "no." Use proper e-mail etiquette, including informative signature lines. Dress properly for any in-person gigs or meetings, and thank anybody who helps you along the way. Practice the art of small talk and use it to build a track record of positive interactions within the industry in which you work.

Almost any interaction might eventually lead to a job. One copy editor thought she had lost her standing in the field when she moved with her husband to Europe. Instead, a casual friend wound up contacting her for a job that involved editing news for a Web site in the wee hours of the morning, U.S. time -- well within her workday in her new location.


Copy Editing vs. Proofreading

Artisan Talent Tip: Be clear when working as a freelancer or employing freelance editors whether you want your material copy edited or proofread. They require some of the same skills but each takes a different focus, with a copy editor focused on producing a readable piece that meets the publication's goals, and a proofreader focused on eliminating small errors that could be distracting to the reader.

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Tammi Reynolds