A few dozen journalists dedicated their Friday to an eight-hour editing boot camp, giving attendees a chance to go beyond a rule refresher course and focus on tips that trick the brain into catching more mistakes.
The American Copy Editors Society sponsored the workshop, covering topics from why copy editing is important to SEO headline writing. Presenters included ACES President Teresa Schmedding and board members Fred Vultee and Neil Holdway.
“We call it a boot camp for a reason,” Schmedding said. “Because we expect by the time you leave here, you’ll be exhausted and completely worn out. We start off hitting pretty hard on the fundamentals of clarity and punctuation.”
She said the copy editor is the reader’s best friend. It can be difficult to quantify the effect copy editing has, but the boot camp presented research that shows editing makes a difference in how a reader perceives the professionalism of an organization. In turn, Schmedding said, editing can determine whether a reader decides to pay for content.
“If the content isn’t error free or clean, professional and understandable, people aren’t going to pay for it,” she said. “So you can’t cut out that layer of people who make sure that it is.”
For those working alone on the copy desk, the boot camp offered tips on self-editing. Although it can be tough, Schmedding said copy editors have to be strong and know when they’re fighting for the copy desk, they’re really fighting for the reader and the content.
Candy Hill, a freelance editor from Gainesville, Florida, said her biggest takeaway from the boot camp was just knowing she’s not alone.
“Sometimes you think, ‘Am I the only person that thinks this way? Or who wonders about this?’ she said. “Most of the stuff that’s come up [in the boot camp], I’ve thought about. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one and no one understands you. It’s nice to know that other people do think the way you do.”
And she said it was also good to have a refresher course—a sentiment echoed by Doug Harris. He spent 15 years working as an editor and designer but now works for SmartBrief, a company that creates industry newsletters.
“It’s always good to get away and have that refresher with the basics and to learn more about the digital world,” he said. “I’m more immersed in the digital world now than I was before.”
Top 8 Ways to Eliminate Mistakes in Your Copy
1. Be careful. Take the time to reread your work.
“Just take 30 seconds to give it one more read,” Holdway said. “Catch the obvious mistakes.”
2. Don’t be too focused on catching specific errors. You run the risk of overlooking other mistakes.
3. Rely on the right sources—always check on the reliability of where you’re checking
4. Give yourself enough time by planning ahead.
5. Properly use the resources you have.
“For heaven’s sake, just run spell check,” Schmedding said. “If you’ve got a program in your system that will check your work, that’s an easy thing for you to do.”
6. Don’t be selfish. It might be embarrassing, but you should point out the errors no one else catches in your work.
7. Be humble. It’s safer to double check information, rather than relying on your stellar memory.
8. Avoid brain lock—don’t lose control of what you’re doing.