Don’t Morph Yourself: Get a Copy Editor

As a college freshman, I rose earlier than my roommates, and in an effort to be considerate, I frequently got dressed in little to no lighting. I remember distinctly one morning stepping into the hall to find that in the dark I had grabbed mismatched clothes. And since I wasn’t an art major, I went back inside and changed.

Sending copy into the world without an editorial pass is a lot like waltzing out of your dorm room without taking stock of your appearance. You know what garments you intended to grab but don’t realize that you misjudged navy for black. And a mirror would tell you your hair is sticking up and your collar is askew. Sure, you’ve gotten your message out there, but it may be saying something more than you intended.

 

Subject experts aren’t necessarily communication experts.

Ideally, a writer is both a subject matter expert and a good communicator, but that’s not always the case. You know your field, you know your business, but knowing the best way to express your message? An editor serves as the reader’s advocate; in other words, he ensures you communicate clearly and effectively so that the reader isn’t misled, confused, or irritated.

My favorite example came from a former sales director: “Morph yourself into a destination that feels far away but is so close to home at the all new [name redacted]. When you step foot inside our doors, you are automatically transformed into a magical world of possibilities . . .”

There’s a lot to unpack there, but safe to say, the writer knew she wanted to create a tone of magic and wonderment but not how to accurately use the chosen vocabulary.

Nobody’s perfect.

“But I am a good writer,” you say. “I even know to use italics instead of all caps for emphasis.” That’s great, but even good writers need editors. Why? Ain’t nobody perfect.

On one project, a manager suggested cutting the editorial step out of our writing process. I’m pretty sure I visibly cringed. The argument was that it would save time and that the writers should be self-editing anyway. Self-editing has its place, and we should, of course, self-edit anything that leaves our desks. (Just think how it would cut down on incomprehensible email.) The issue is that writers are too close to their material (especially on a tight turnaround) to judge it objectively and clearly. As a writer, you know what you meant to say, so sometimes it’s hard to see that you didn’t actually say it. Your mind can even supply the words that you missed while typing.

If you have the time and budget (and even if you don’t), a fresh pair of eyes is always best. You’ve heard the saying, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” I’ve always held the same applies to writers who serve as their own editors.

Sloppy copy makes you look unprofessional.

We equate polish, integrity, and reliability with professionalism. Think how a website or press release filled with errors undermines those standards. The odd typo or minor mistake isn’t going to scare off too many clients—after all, nobody’s perfect. Poorly written text accompanied by flagrant errors, however, is a red flag. I take a badly edited website as an indicator of a fly-by-night operation. If you can’t be bothered to present yourself well verbally, why should I trust you with my business or money?

An editor safeguards your professional reputation. And if you have an established editorial style and tone of voice (and you really should), the editor protects that as well, helping to maintain a consistent presentation of your company’s personality.

Could I interest you in some embarrassment insurance?

In 2009, the Daily Herald reported that thousands of BYU newspapers had to be yanked from sales outlets because a front-page caption identified a group of church leaders as “apostates,” rather than “apostles.” Another university’s alumni association seemed to take a cavalier stance on alcoholism on a form with a checkbox that said “Include my souse as a one year member.”

Now, it’s possible that both of these managed to slip through an editorial pass. Editors aren’t perfect either, but they do help protect you from editorial black eyes, those doozies that make you look foolish and make other people snicker.

 

If your office or department doesn’t have an editor, conscript your most editorially minded colleague (the one that corrects your grammar and sends immaculate email). If wordsmithing isn’t anyone’s strong suit, consider retaining a freelance editor or make use of editorial services from an ad agency like EVGMedia. We create a variety of high-performance content, from website copy to white papers. We can even help with content localization for global audiences.

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