Copy Editing Broken Down
Looking at how to copy edit which, if you know your stuff, is pretty simple.
Spelling and Typos
Critiquing spelling is easy, unless you don’t know how to spell things yourself, then you’re out of luck. Now, in a lot of writing programs (unless you’re reading a .pdf file) there will be squiggly red lines under the words that the programs feel are spelled wrong. Those are helpful in finding spelling errors. However, those things also don’t know every single word in the dictionary and will say that certain words, even if they’re spelled correctly, are wrong. If you think something is spelled incorrectly but you’re not sure, go look it up in the dictionary. Typing a word in on a search engine, if you get it close anyway, will automatically show the correct spelling of the word.
Then there’s typos, which the spell checker won’t pick up usually as a lot of typos are spelled correctly, it’s just a word that the writer didn’t intend to be there (like saying me instead of my). Sometimes you can’t tell if something is a typo vs. it being the intended word. If you’re going about it word for word, sometimes things sound weird but if you read the rest of the sentence then it sounds fine, so don’t be too quick to use that red pen.
Well, here’s the big one. That dreaded grammar critique. Now, I’m going to talk about nitpicking grammar later, but I want you to be aware that while there are set grammar rules, there are also things that people call grammar rules that have exceptions to them, or they’re taught in a way that people misunderstand them. Again, this will be talked about in more detail with my post on nitpicking tomorrow. Now that that’s out of the way, critiquing grammar.
You have to be good at grammar yourself before you can actually do this, but just reading a story sometimes makes it easy to weed out poor grammar. For some reason, people don’t always write the way they talk (or if they are writing the way they talk, they talk horribly and what they say probably makes no sense). What I mean by this is that I’ve seen grammar so poor in writing before that reading it out loud makes no sense and it doesn’t sound like anything anyone would actually say or could comprehend. Those sorts of grammar mistakes are easy to find and then correct.
Unless you’ve taken an extensive course in grammar and punctuation, this one can be a little bit harder, especially when it comes to commas. People misuse commas all the time, so sometimes the writers will misuse them, but at other times the critiquers won’t know if it’s misused or not and suggest to put in a comma when there isn’t one needed. It’s somewhat of a slippery slope in that area. A lot of people will say to put a comma where you would pause in a sentence, but that isn’t always true. I’ve seen critiquers add a comma and justify it by saying “well I took a breath there, so obviously it needed to be there,” but then the reader will say that you aren’t supposed to take a breath there in the first place, along with the fact that you’re not supposed to use commas like that. So if you’re critiquing commas, make sure you know your stuff first.
Other punctuation marks that people have trouble with are ellipses (three periods at the end of a sentence…), semicolons; colons: and to some extent, exclamation points! and question marks? Most people realize that periods go at the end of a sentence, though. I’m not sure if this counts as punctuation so much, but capitalizing letters at the beginning of sentences is something to watch out for as well.