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January 17, 2005

I Loathe Checking the Copy-Editor

I loathe checking the copy-editor.

I loathe checking the copy-editor for two reasons:

First, I'm lousy at it. My brain *knows* already what each paragraph says. And it is very hard to get it to check whether the copy-edited paragraph still says what my brain *knows* it says.

Second, it becomes painfully obvious that all the subtle things I was trying to do with phrasing and parallelism didn't work. The copy-editor is smart. The copy-editor knows the business. The copy-editor thought that it wasn't worth keeping.

Posted by DeLong at January 17, 2005 09:26 AM

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I have the same problem as the first whenever I try to edit my work or when I am editing something for a person whose work I know really well. I have a tendency to search out the points being made instead of trying to focus on sentence structure. The only thing that I found helps is to read everything aloud. It slows me down enough that I look over every word and my ear can catch poor sentence structure(hopefully).

Posted by: Rob at January 17, 2005 10:49 AM

It's nice to see someone, for once, say (or merely imply) something good about copy editors. Every author has some story about some atrocity of pedantry committed against him/her by some imbecilic CE; but, oh the stories CEs can tell about the atrocities committed by authors. Oh, oh, oh... Ultimately, we're all in the same boat, trying to make good and better books. And, like it or not, pedantry is a staple of a good book.

Posted by: some_former_ce at January 17, 2005 10:59 AM

Radical cross-discipline suggestion:
When checking code, we get around the first problem by assigning one person to read the code backward (from the end of each function to the beginning). This takes a lot of concentration, requiring each line to be read rather than having your brain lazily follow the code along and possibly miss errors.

Might the same work for proof-reading? If not reading each paragraph from last sentence to first, then possibly each paragraph from the end to the beginning of each page?

Posted by: Stoffel at January 17, 2005 11:11 AM

Reading backwards is a good way to check spelling errors, but it makes it pretty tough to read something for sense. To read for sense, I find the best thing to do is to read aloud, and ask the author and/or editor for clarification if the question is anything more than one of basic grammer.

Posted by: Andrew at January 17, 2005 11:55 AM

Good copy editors are worth a lot, especially when you work with them one-on-one. I subscribe the “The Editorial Eye,” a newsletter for copy editors. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to read it regularly, but whenever I do, I generally come away with something useful. According to EE the copy editing business is shrinking because fewer and fewer institutions want to pay for their services. That’s certainly true at my place, because now days they have to bill your project directly, and the charges really mount up because the copy editors come with lots of overhead. So now the technical professional does his own copyediting, and typing, and graphics. I heard a story that Cisco did away with all its copy editors and technical writers. But then the engineer-authored manuals were so badly written, the help lines jammed up, and Cisco had to bring them back.

Posted by: A. Zarkov at January 17, 2005 01:57 PM

Some companies do simply do away with copy editors. Others shunt them into jobs like "production editor" and then overload them with so much work that the copy editing portion of the job goes by the wayside. And the worst part is, the technical editors who are supposedly responsible for content review don't even know how to run a damn spellchecker! The number of typos you see in supposedly professionally edited publications these days is really terrible, and it inevitably leads the reader to question at some level the factual accuracy of the publication.

Posted by: Andrew at January 17, 2005 03:11 PM

I have always been a terrible editor of my own work, but found a method that has helped enormously. I read with a highlighter, using it to trace over each word. Slowly, line-by-line and page-by-page the whole book becomes yellow. But the discipline of following it across each line helps me catch a lot more than I used to. Not everything. But a lot more.

Posted by: eilersc at January 17, 2005 08:55 PM

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