Why copy-editing counts

From catching mistakes to protecting brand tone, copy-editors do an essential job for business.

Chris Alden, freelance copywriter

Does copy-editing matter in the age of Twitter and Pinterest? Some say not. But if you’re in the business of selling something – whether it’s a product or a service, a manifesto or an idea – and you think you can get away without a copy-editor, think again.

Here are seven reasons why.

1. Editing helps engagement.

Engagement, emotional connection, call it what you will: if you want people to be interested in what you have to say, it’s important to talk to them as if both they and you are humans.

Long, jargonistic subclauses packed with abstract nouns don’t get your point across to readers. Simple sentences with active verbs do.

Copy-editors turn one into the other.

2. Mistakes cost money; copy-editors catch them.

Proofreading errors cost organisations money. Earlier this year, for example, the UK government had to pay out £9m after a single-letter mistake caused a business to collapse. And that’s quite apart from the damage to your brand that lesser mistakes can cause.

How do you reduce the risk from errors? Simple: have someone look at your copy after you’ve written it. If that person is a copy-editor, versed in the art of spotting mistakes, you’re on solid ground.

3. Good editors are number-crunchers, too.

Think copy-editors only spot verbal errors? Think again. Who else but a copy-editor will notice that the data you cite in your text doesn’t match up with the bar chart in Figure 6.2? Or that the figures in the percentage column don’t add up to 100? Or that the stat you quote in Chapter 7 confuses percentages with percentage points? (Your picky financial client, that’s who.)

4. Copy-editors are guardians of tone.

“Brand language” is a trendy thing in marketing circles. But you don’t need to be a tone-of-voice guru to know that when copy is full of technical jargon, customers are likely to be put off.

If your copy isn’t speaking your client’s language, a good copy-editor will help set it back on track.

5. Grammar debates waste time.

“Judgement” or “judgment”? Oxford comma or no Oxford comma? Full points after abbreviations or not? Your style guide should have the answers – but if it doesn’t, a good copy-editor will help you form a sensible view on these linguistic dilemmas with a minimum of fuss. No more time wasted debating the finer points of English style.

6. Copy-editors can help global teams.

If you run a global team, your overseas colleagues will probably have excellent spoken English, but their written skills may not always reach the same high standard. This is understandable, but it means client-facing written reports will often need to be edited into shape. Enter the copy-editor, who will be able to turn overseas writers’ work into impeccable international English – in UK or US style, as you prefer.

7. A good editor reveals the holes in your thinking.

This is one of the most important benefits that copy-editors provide, but can sometimes be the most challenging, which is why I’ve mentioned it last. A common reason for poor writing is, simply, fuzzy thinking. That’s not, in most cases, a criticism of your ability: it’s just something that everybody is guilty of from time to time. But it’s also why one of the most important questions you’ll hear from a freelance copy-editor is: “What exactly are you trying to say here?”

When you hear these words, take it as a positive sign. Freelance copy-editors are in the privileged position of being able to help join the dots in your thinking without undermining your authority – helping you to even greater insights into your market or business.

For that, we’re cheap. Use us wisely.


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