Sunday, July 29, 2012

On copy editing

An unrelated picture of my cat.

Lately, I have been doing some freelance work as a copy editor. [Unrelated Note: D and I were talking recently about the origins of the phrase “freelance.” He was mostly right. See here.] I'm not a content editor; instead, I really only care about the basic tenets of language: grammar, punctuation, spelling. I point out when the author has used the wrong word (since vs. because, there/their/they're, etc.), I delete unnecessary commas, I fix words so that verb tenses are consistent throughout.

I add in semicolons where appropriate. My senior year high school English teacher made the point that using semicolons—correctly—makes you look smarter. And it's true, especially since most people don't know how. Add this to the list of important facts to know about me: I am a big fan of the semicolon.

In reality, most of these issues should have already been caught by the book's normal editor. But sometimes simple errors are overlooked; having a fresh pair of eyes look the material over can mean the difference between writing “bowl of pea soup” instead of “bowel of pea soup.” (Yes, I did see the latter in a published book once. It was a self-published book, but still.)

So here's something that's been sort of bugging me lately. I read a lot of blog posts. I used to be addicted to food blogs. (I still am, to a lesser extent.) Now, after the arrival of Little Bug, I spend a lot of time reading blogs about babies. I read about parenting issues, breastfeeding, politics related to parenting and reproductive rights, pregnancy, and birth stories. (Read mine here!) I read reviews of parenting and/or pregnancy books, editorials on the “mommy wars,” and the arguments for and against controversial topics like vaccinations or circumcision.

I read a lot. When I have time to, anyway; most of my reading is done in the hour or so at night after Little Bug has gone to sleep and before I decide to join him in slumber.

And you know what really gets to me about some of these blogs I read? The fact that many of them obviously haven't been edited beyond the spelling/grammar check that comes built into every word processing program.

Yes, yes, I know—this should not be a big issue. And it isn't. Run-on sentences and incorrectly used words don't take away from the overall message, so long as I can still understand what the writer is trying to say. But they do distract me.

Back when I was in high school, my mama and I would sometimes take a red pen to notices received in the mail, or even the newspaper, and correct any errors we could find in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (My mama, when she gets to talking about this to others, fondly points out that my favorite thing to edit was the principal's bulletin from the school newsletters.)

Sometimes I'll be reading a blog post and get a similar urge. I want to print some of these posts out and take my red pen to them. Not because I don't respect what the author has to say. Not because I don't understand the post. Simply because bad grammar and punctuation bother me.

So this is just food for thought, I suppose. If you have a blog, you might consider taking a second look at what you write before you post it. Read it over again, keeping an eye out for rogue commas or simple misspellings that your word processor might have overlooked. It might not make a noticeable difference, but I believe it will reflect better on you as a writer.


  1. With my fresh eyes, I noticed - tenets, not tenants! (First par!) One fellow habitual red-liner to another! I understand what you are saying - I am surprised the number of errors that make it into print. It's more understandable on a blog, as you said, but it's still an annoyance to fans of correct usage. I'll be hiring you to edit anything I write, methinks!

  2. The worst offenses of spelling and grammar can be found not on blogs or in self-published books, but on Craigslist! Even if you were to ignore the blatant grammar and punctuation follies, the spelling itself is completely, unforgivably atrocious! What happened to no child left behind? Just today, I was watching Mr H scroll through a few posts and I saw a HUGH Yard Sale, a dresser with 2 droors, a large antique Ar Moire, a basket for Vegtables (they spelled it like that repeatedly - NOT a typo!), and a "like new" COOKOO clock! Makes the average blog look like a dissertation on English ...