The Editorial Apartment

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Three characteristics of a good copy editor or proofreader

Neatness. Your marks are clean and easy to follow, your writing easy to read.

Attention to detail. You naturally notice everything to do with the copy, including spacing, breaking and format, plus the white space and graphics around it.

Confidence. You mark in pen (or even only in pen), rarely in pencil.

As for the text itself, a good editor/proofreader also knows when to query something; when a change might be too drastic, and if it is, to insert a note or query next to it; and the difference between a fair change versus an unfair change, i.e., one that is just based on your personal preference.

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Copy Editor’s Tip: Marking up a layout

Marking up a document in a clear way is a sign of a good copy editor or proofreader. It’s not just about using standard proofreading symbols, at least with marketing copy and when the copy is in layout. (In my markups, I avoid using some of the traditional symbols that seem old fashioned and not understandable by anyone who isn’t a typesetter.)

Any written instructions should be brief but clear. Visual elements, like arrows, boxes and circles can help clarify your instructions, as long as they aren’t redundant to the instructions. These are small techniques, but important ones.

And of course, your handwriting must be legible and in print form, never cursive. For text that you want inserted into the layout, print in the exact casing you want it to be in in the layout.

Your markup will be read by the person who will implement your changes. You should make it as clear and as easy as possible for that person to understand.

I once saw a markup a proofreader did in which many words and phrases needed to be moved to different places all over the one-page design. The proofreader had drawn so many arrowed lines connected to circled text that the page became a complicated map of crossing red lines—However, the markup was carefully done and incredibly legible!—And the production artist successfully implemented those instructions. Not an ideal situation, but a markup well done, a proofreader’s work of art.

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Copy Editor’s Tip: Checking facts

Today, I’ll meet friends and watch Spain play soccer. But at what time does Spain play, who do they play and do they even play today? I checked the FIFA website. Next, I checked my local TV program guide for the exact broadcast time in my area. Tip when checking facts: Always, always go to the main source first and consider the information there the most reliable. In this case, it’s the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).

Paraguay vs. Spain, July 3, 1:30 p.m. (CT) on ABC. In my area, California, ABC will start the broadcast at 11 a.m. ¡Viva España! ¡Viva Paraguay!