Remember, we’re doing much more than “just reading.” The following are things copy editors hear all the time that don’t help us produce our best work.
“Can you look at this real quick?”
Copy editing is the antithesis of “real quick” (which is bad grammar anyway). It’s not copy editing if one is quickly skimming. The whole point of copy editing is to carefully review each word and look for the errors that crept in when the work wasn’t looked at slowly.
“Can you stand at the work table and look at this real quick?”
Extra-vehement NO. That’s even worse, and it happens. Once I was asked to copy edit a PowerPoint presentation during a meeting. We were showing the presentation in-house, moments before the client was going to see it. A co-worker was reading the presentation aloud, and I was attempting to copy edit it while the slides of the presentation flashed across the screen. My best work was not produced during that meeting.
If you want a flawless piece of content, don’t ask us to copy edit while other people are looking at and commenting on a document. We need to carefully and quietly examine each word on our own with no distractions.
“This should go pretty fast because the copy is clean. Someone already copy edited it once.”
Even if that’s the case, we still have to carefully and quietly read every word, and that takes time even when there aren’t many errors.
“Just look for major things.”
We get it. Sometimes something really has to be turned around in a hurry and you don’t want a nitpicky copy editor taking forever. But what’s your idea of major? Is someone’s name being misspelled a major error? What about a long list of company names with one that may not be right? What if there are charts with numerals that end up being the wrong numbers? “Major” can mean very different things, and to a copy editor, a misplaced semicolon counts as major. If you don’t want everything fixed, due to time constraints, be sure to clarify what you do and don’t want the copy editor to fix.
“How’s it going? How’s it going now?…How about now?”
This goes back to the copy editor needing time and quiet. Send the copy editor the work, then let him or her be. If we have to interrupt to answer your “How’s it coming along?” or to read follow-up emails with unnecessary information, it’s more likely we’ll miss something because our concentration is broken.
A few more points:
Be clear on the facts.
For some, copy editing means we not only read every word carefully, but we also check the facts within, like those numerals in the chart I mentioned above.
Let’s say I’m copy editing an article that mentions an old business. I’d ensure that the business itself is spelled correctly, but let’s also say the article lists the year the business was founded and when it folded. Should I check that those are accurate?
Be sure to let the copy editor know whether you want all facts checked. Fact-checking is sometimes a separate step, done by an actual fact-checker. Copy editors need to know either way so we don’t take longer than we need to, or miss something that should have been checked.
Don’t make us Nancy Drew what we’re checking.
Copy editors are already doing a lot of things, and tracking down the correct sources shouldn’t be one of them.
I used to copy edit a quarterly catalog for flower vendors. There were quite a few vases in that catalog, as you can imagine. A co-worker gave me a big sheet with the dimensions of all the vases, and I carefully checked the catalog copy against it in round one.
On the second round, she came to me, alarmed. “All the dimensions of all the vases are wrong!” she said. My blood ran cold. I got the papers she had given me. “They seem right compared to this document,” I said. “Are you sure they’re wrong?”
“Oh, you weren’t supposed to use those papers I gave you,” she said. “Those were just estimations. You should have gotten the correct information from Bob.”
A flawless document is more likely to happen if the person making sure everything is flawless is given flawless information.
Remember that we love it.
I don’t know a single copy editor who doesn’t love what he or she does. Get us started on em dashes and we’ll talk about them for hours. In other words, we adore making sure your work is stunning. We just need quiet, the time to do it right and a little clarity.