Behind the Scenes of a Small Copy Editing Incident

making_correctionsIn the world of newspaper, magazine and book publishing, there is simply no controversy about this: Every piece of writing needs an editor – every article, every blurb, story, column, caption, table of contents, letter to the editor, every obituary.

Twain, Hemingway and “Dear Abby” were edited, and so should any content that represents your business.

Making you look good online and in print, editors, fact checkers and proofreaders are your friends.

I was reminded of this the other day when I brought some copy edits to our new creative director. The corrections were for his new bio that had been written (not by him) and urgently published that day on our website, and he was genuinely appreciative.

I want to give some credit to David and his designers because they are some of the most welcoming and receptive art staff I have every worked with when it comes to corrections.

Designers, you see, can view post-layout corrections as a chore that unfairly falls on them just because the files in question happen to live on their hard drives. Designers are often, how can I say this – a lot more interested in the beauty of their layouts than what the text says.

But the Oneupweb designers believe that when their work is matched with great messaging, it makes their web pages more effective. They have the perfect attitude about keying in tedious text corrections, and I appreciate that about them.

David, who got a big promotion last week from creative manager to creative director of the agency, was genuinely happy to implement the copy tweaks in WordPress.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting David, let me tell you, he has very unexpected interests for a guy with an advanced art degree: Major League Baseball, NFL football, ice fishing and taking his son to monster truck shows. The former college baseball player is also the kind of “low blood pressure,” no-drama guy that the creative types on our design team love.

Because of the well-deserved bump upstairs, his bio was assigned and urgently published on our website’s “About Us” page – an important page where potential clients go to learn about the folks running the show around here.

Below is the original copy that came to my desk, and my minor markup. Below that, I include the thought behind each edit.

The Corrections:

  1. david_bio_markupThe use of the word “current” here is factually correct – he does work on current client projects, but it invites the question, “Not former client projects? Did he not work on designs before his promotion?” (He did.) Deleting this word makes the statement more accurate and frees the reader of mind baggage.
  2. Oneupweb uses A.P. Style. A.P. Style for “non-profit” is “nonprofit” without the hyphen. A quick search on Google for “Oneupweb” + nonprofit and non-profit confirmed our use of “nonprofit” without the hyphen on the rest of our website. When a brand’s website has inconsistencies in how words are treated, it can come across as lazy and disconcerting. So, we deleted the hyphen here.
  3. We added a comma here because there is a natural pause. The introductory phrase needs to be offset by the introduction of the sentence’s subject: David.
  4. Here the line is changed from:
“David creates user-centric design that drives ROI both on and offline.” To…“David creates user-centric designs that drive ROI both online and off.”

There’s nothing wrong with the first line, but it flows better taking “design” from the heady academic concept to the concrete with “designs,” and then we need to use “drive” for proper subject-verb agreement. In the original, the grammatically correct version of “on and offline” would have a dangling hyphen with “on,” as in: on- and offline. But that is not always the best route since people unfamiliar with the rule might find it awkward. To eliminate the dangling hyphen’s necessity, we switched it to “online and off.” Plus, because we’re a digital marketing agency our work is primarily online so it makes sense to mention that first.

  1. It’s a little awkward to say that David and his son spend their time “cheering on” monster truck rallies. They’re not cheering on the rally (Go rally!), they’re cheering on the monster trucks (Go Gravedigger!), so let’s change that to “cheering at.”
  2. Monster trucks can crush your car and mine like they were origami. Despite this, they are still not proper nouns, and are therefore lower case – though I would hate to have to explain that to a monster truck in person.
  3. No need for a hyphen here, though I understand the temptation since you could argue that “monster truck” is a compound adjective that describes the noun “rallies.” The overriding rule for readability, though, is to not use punctuation where it is not necessary. Decidedly, the eye of most people will not need to see “monster-truck” in order to understand what kind of rally it is.
  4. Here I went to Google: Monster truck “show” is much more cited than monster truck “rally.” Let’s go with the most common usage.
  5. David has been uncharacteristically eating salads in the lunch room over the past couple of weeks, which is where the idea that he likes to “hit the greens” probably came from. But if we’re talking about golf, the term is “hitting the links.”
  6. When a proofreader marks up a page with “stet,” that means “ignore correction.” It’s how a proofreader says, “Whoops, never mind.” Here I was thinking that David’s phone number would look better with a space between the “x” and the extension number – but all the other bios on the “About Us” page get the same “no space” treatment, so consistency trumps the correction. Stet!

So, there you go: a well-written piece that still had ten tweaks. An extra step? Sure, but Spell Check only gets any piece of writing so far. Human editors take pieces to the next level, even pieces that might only be 140 characters long.

As a content producer, if you don’t have anyone handy who can serve as your editor then wait a day before you publish it. First thing the next morning you will see the text with new eyes, and improvements that you did not see the day you wrote it will start popping out at you.

If you have to publish “now” – and sometimes you do, then go back later and revisit the copy you published. Even pieces that are perfectly edited by pros can have errors incidentally introduced during the implementation process, and should be checked – not forgotten about – once they go live.

The great thing about the online world is that errors are not immortalized in print like in the old days – they’re sitting digitally in content management systems, waiting to be corrected with the click of a mouse, the tap of a keyboard.

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Next week: My editor goes over the corrections they made on the first draft of this piece. (Ha ha… j/k)