This post discusses steps that you can take to improve your copy editing skills, including 16 steps for improvement. The steps will help you become a better writer and editor in the process. You’ll learn how to think like an editor and work more efficiently with other writers on your team.
1. Read the text aloud.
The first step to editing your writing is reading it out loud, preferably into a digital recorder or voice memo app on your phone. Listening to yourself read what you wrote will help you catch spelling errors and won’t betray an error in tone that might come across when just “reading” the piece.
If you can’t read the text out loud, why not? What is stopping you from reading it aloud? The next step would be to correct this.
2. Take a break.
Whether five minutes or an afternoon, take a gap between editing and writing your first draft so that you have fresh eyes when going back over your work.
3. Read the text backwards.
Whether you use a physical printout or an on-screen document, read your piece forward first and then backward to catch any inconsistencies that may have occurred during editing. This is also helpful for spotting missing words!
4. Remove all the adverbs and adjectives.
In editing, most of your heavy lifting is done through cutting unnecessary words from a piece. If you find yourself overusing modifiers like “really,” “very” or “extremely,” cut them out! A great example of an adjective-heavy sentence is:
“The girl was very sad.”
If the girl is upset, she’s likely to be described as “sad,” not really or extremely. You get it! The next step would be to correct this.
5. Remove unnecessary articles and prepositions.
Does your sentence still make sense after removing articles like “a” and “the”? Can you delete a preposition without changing the meaning of your sentence? If so, cut them! These are easy words to edit out.
What do they look like before editing? What does it mean if I remove them from my sentences? The next step would be to correct this.
6. Cut out the filler words and phrases that weaken your writing (e.g., “stuff like,” “kind of,” “sort of”).
The sentence reads the same, but is stronger without them. This isn’t really a common practice for editing articles, so it’s best to avoid this step until you’ve mastered basics like cutting adverbs and adjectives! But if you’re looking for somewhere to start with improving your writing skills, look no further.
7. Use the active voice, not passive.
In writing, using the active voice makes your work stronger because you’re calling attention to who is performing an action instead of what is being acted upon. For example, “The man was bitten by the dog.” versus “The dog bit the man.”
8. Use strong verbs instead of nouns as subjects or objects.
Using nouns as subjects or objects weakens your writing because they aren’t the ones doing anything; they’re just being acted upon. This makes it harder for readers to visualize what’s going on in your work, which is never a good thing! For example: “The dog was running.” versus “The man ran after the dog.”
9. Ensure that all your tenses are consistent.
This is one of the most common mistakes made by young writers (and old ones, too). If you write something like “He runs to the store,” make sure you stay in present tense for the rest of your piece.
10. Use precise wording rather than generalizations or clichés (e.g., “It’s really hot today,” versus, “Thesaurus” for cooling down).
Using generalizations and clichés weaken your writing because they’re tired, overused phrases that fail to convey what you really mean. If you find yourself reaching for a cliché or phrase like “it was dark outside,” try to think of something more original! For example: You could write instead about the stars dotting the night sky.
11. Avoid redundancies (e.g., “close proximity,” “end result”).
Redundancies weaken your writing because they’re overused phrases that don’t really express what you mean. For example, if I refer to “a close proximity” of my home, it would be redundant because proximity is already a synonym for closeness.
12. Avoid euphemisms (e.g., calling death “passing away,” or saying that someone has retired instead of was fired).
Using euphemisms weakens your writing because they’re overused phrases that don’t really express what you mean. For example, if I refer to “passing away” as a way of describing death, it would be redundant because passing is already a synonym for dying!
13. Avoid clichés (e.g., saying there’s no “I” in team, or that you need to take the bull by its horns).
Using clichés weaken your writing because they’re tired, overused phrases that fail to convey what you really mean. For example, if I say “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” it would be redundant because there is already an “I” inside the word “team.”
14. Avoid hyperbole (e.g., saying that something is “the best,” or using an overabundance of exclamation marks).
Using hyperbole weakens your writing because it’s a worn out phrase that fails to convey what you really mean. For example, if I say “it was the best day ever,” it would be redundant because something can’t really be the best of all possible days. If you want to convey that a moment was particularly good, use more descriptive language!
15. Use contractions when they are appropriate (e.g., “don’t,” or “I’m”).
Using contractions weakens your writing because it makes it sound more formal, which isn’t always the desired effect. For example, if I wrote “I’m not going to do this anymore,” it would be important for me to use contractions throughout my piece because otherwise there’s a disconnect between what you read and hear when people speak naturally!
16. Avoid slang and colloquialisms (e.g., saying “y’all” instead of “you all,” or using the phrase “ain’t”).
Using slang and colloquialisms weakens your writing because it sounds unprofessional, which isn’t always the desired effect. For example, if I use phrases like “y’all,” it would be important for me to use more formal language throughout my piece because otherwise there’s a disconnect between what you read and hear when people speak naturally!
Considering all of the facts
So we’ve provided some basic copy editing skills for you to improve your writing. We hope these 16 steps have been helpful and that they will help you become a better writer! But don’t stop here-as is the case with most things, there is always more to learn about improving as a writer. Comment below and tell us what strategies or tips work best for you when it comes to proofreading and correcting errors in your own work.