For most self-publishing authors, bloggers and content writers, the costs of hiring a professional copy editor and proofreader are not affordable.
But the processes are indispensable and are a vital part of getting any text ready for publication either online or in print.
If you have friends or family who can help you with these stages, it is a big bonus. A second or third pair of eyes are always of high value in any editing process. But you should be able to do a lot of the work yourself if you are meticulous and pay attention to detail.
While this article is focussing predominantly on copyediting and proofreading and finalising your text, it is important to recap on all the stages in the process of perfecting a text.
The four distinct editing phases
1. Basic error correction
In the first stage, you are working on finding language errors in your grammar, spelling, punctuation and typos that naturally occur in the writing process.
For most writers today, this stage can be completed adequately and quite quickly by using a good online grammar checker.
Both apps do a great job when it comes to finding basic grammatical errors that you can correct. For spelling errors, each app corrects errors with one click.
They are handy for locating and correcting obvious mistakes and typographical errors and make the first editing stage easier and quicker.
But neither app should be ever be considered as an online proofreader for your finished product.
2. What is line editing?
The most substantive editing you will need to do after you finish your error corrections is a line edit. It is when you should take a big-picture view of your writing.
It is when you need to look at your creative content or story, your writing style, and your language use at a sentence and paragraph level.
You are looking for problems within your plot, missing information or redundancies due to unnecessary repetition.
Writing style can often involve making sure that you are not mixing language register between formal and informal.
You should also check for shifts in tone and unnatural phrasing and passages that use bland language.
At sentence and paragraph level, you need to look for repeated words, overused grammar structures and run-on sentences.
In other words, line edits help communicate more effectively with the reader.
3. What is copy editing?
It is at this stage of editing and proofreading process that you will need to apply the most amount of work and your energy.
There is no way that you can do this by using online tools. It is a sentence by sentence task and only a human can make the decisions that are necessary now.
You can break down this stage into four clear areas.
While there is still the possibility to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, use of the appropriate or correct syntax is one of the main aims now.
A sentence can be grammatically correct, but it might not use the correct syntax, or word order, to convey the intended meaning.
For example, the following sentences are all grammatically correct yet have a slightly different meaning due to changes in syntax.
I don’t often drink whiskey. (I rarely or only occasionally drink whiskey.)
Often, I don’t drink whiskey. (I drink a lot, but whiskey only sometimes.)
I don’t drink whiskey often. (Again, I very rarely drink whiskey.)
I often don’t drink whiskey. (But I do drink vodka, rum, gin or anything else I can get my hands on.)
As the four phrases above clearly demonstrate, editor correction is the only way to ensure that the syntax is appropriate for the text and the message. In the case of the sentences above, am I an alcoholic or a very occasional drinker?
(ii.) Technical consistency
There are many variations of the English language.
Not only are there national differences between US, British, Australian and Canadian English, there are also internal variants.
These internal differences are usually defined by style or the application of a consistent technical style of writing.
Style guides are published in all English speaking countries and are extremely useful.
Some of the most well-known house style guides are The Chicago Manual of Style, The AP Stylebook (The Associated Press Stylebook), The Guardian Style Guide, The Guardian Style Guide and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.
5 Free Online Style Guides
A guide gives you a set of rules to help maintain consistency in capitalisation, spelling, hyphenation, numerals and fonts.
For example, if you write Mr. but use Dr there is a problem with consistency because Mr. uses a full stop (period), but Dr doesn’t.
Mixing spelling variations between ‘ise’ and ize’ or doubling a consonant in travelling but not in canceling, or fuelled but not modeled all need to be checked for consistency of use.
You also need to check for formatting errors. Page numbering and number formats especially need to be consistent. If you use the Fourth of July in one part of your text, but July the Fourth in another and the 4th July or July 4 elsewhere, it is inconsistent.
Other technical irregularities occur if you mix single and double quotation marks, or italics intermittently in place of quotes.
Hyphenation of compound nouns and compound adjectives also differ in use from one style guide to another.
Lastly, every guide has an opinion about the use of the Oxford Comma, which is sometimes called the Serial Comma. It is up to each writer, but again, it must be used, or not used consistently.
(iii.) Internal consistency
This aspect can be challenging to locate. It happens when there are discrepancies that might occur some distance apart in a text. For a manuscript with a large word count, it requires constant attention to detail.
The most common instances that occur in book editing especially are when ages, characteristics or traits change.
Mary sat silently in front of the mirror, slowly brushing her long dark hair.
The beach was beautiful, so Mary tied up her long blonde hair before she ventured into the water.
Gerald never thought he would recover from the loss of his father when he was eight years old.
Only when Gerald married did he start to come to terms with his father’s death when he was a teenager.
It was love at first sight for Vikki.
Vikky recalled the day she met Tony and fell in love with him.
It was unusual for Katelyn to lose her temper. She was always level-headed and calm.
As Brett had come to understand, Kaitlyn was prone to getting upset about the smallest things.
Finding internal inconsistencies is very demanding, but it is necessary to locate these kinds of errors to ensure continuity.
If you are writing a story that you have set in the nineteenth century, a sentence such the following would need correcting.
Venturing out into the foggy gaslit street, the north wind bit at his cheeks. But he had to go, so he zipped up his coat and made for the river.
While the zip, or zipper, was invented in 1893, it wasn’t until 1913, in the twentieth century that the modern zipper was eventually designed and came into everyday use.
I can recall it so vividly. I was in my classroom listening to the moon landing on the radio in 1967. He said, “one giant leap for mankind.”
Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC. Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC.
Luckily we have the Internet today to help with this aspect. So there is no reason not to do a fact check and make sure that all your historical information is accurate.
Editing and the proofreading process are two separate tasks.
If you are not using a professional proofreading service or editing services, you need to tackle this stage with a very clear mind.
If you are working towards book publishing, you should take a long break before starting this task. While there is no rule, a month between editing and the proofreading stage of a manuscript is usually enough time.
However, if you are preparing an article, a blog post or perhaps a term paper or essay assignment, a day or two is usually sufficient.
The aim of a break is to make sure you can think clearly and independently from your editing work. You need to start totally afresh.
While you might not be able to afford a professional proofreader, you should at least think like one. Or in other words, approach your text as if you have never seen it before.
You should also try to get as much help as possible from beta readers or friends because extra proofreaders ensure that you will hopefully find more mistakes and typos.
It is the most tedious part of preparing a text or manuscript because you are looking for anything that all of the three previous steps may have missed. Proofreaders check everything.
It is laborious, painstaking and slow. Yet it is absolutely necessary.
There are many ways to tackle proofreading. But the best advice is to divide a text up into chunks. In fact, analysing chapters in a book in reverse order is one of the best ways to isolate the story from your mind as you proofread.
It is a technique that encourages you to concentrate on line by line and paragraph by paragraph checking.
Proofreading is a tough task. There are no quick fixes. You need to check every word, phrase and comma, as well as check for what might have been missed in copy and line editing.
Although there are four stages in preparing a text or manuscript before publishing, the two most crucial stages are copy editing and proofreading.
It is within these two parts that you can do the most to perfect your text and make sure that you will satisfy your readers.
There is no guaranteed path to perfection. But if you can focus your energies on syntax and consistency during the editing stage and accuracy during proofreading, you will have taken enormous steps towards perfecting your text.
Then, when you have finished, proofread your text, just one more time to be sure.
I started my working life as a lithographer and then spent over 30 years in the printing and publishing business.
Originally from Australia, I moved to Switzerland 20 years ago. My days are spent teaching English, writing and wrestling with technology while enjoying my glorious view of the Alps.
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