a copy editor writes this blog?

One of the most personally enriching facets of my ongoing stint as a copy editor—aside from working for a pretty amazing paper, and raking in a lot of experience—is getting to discover the happily subversive online world of copy editing. Copy editors, like everyone else, have a weakness for blogging.

There are a number of copy editing blogs that I thoroughly enjoy in much the same way esoteric mathematicians enjoy blogs about esoteric math. A lot of it is stuff only copy editors understand. I mean, would you want to read a post about the the shortcuts and run-arounds to make MS Word 2007 change all the double spaces to single spaces, but only the ones you want to? Actually, maybe you would.

But when it comes to charm and general interest, the inimical and winsomely irascible John McIntyre is hard to beat. Imagine my delight when I discovered his post of advice for copy editors in training: “A student reads this blog?” Actually, don’t imagine my delight—go read his post and experience it for yourself. A salient and tantalizing quotation:

Read widely. Read books. Read magazines. Read newspapers. Read website posts. Read quality stuff. Read some trash too. Read for instruction. Read for amusement. You won’t know much about how writing is being performed unless you read a lot, both the good and the bad.

Become more knowledgeable. An editor can never know too much. Increase your store of general information, and go deeper into areas that interest you. There should be at least a couple of areas in which people consult you regularly because of your known expertise.

Master the craft. Grammar and syntax are your tools. You need to understand the terminology, so that you can explain why you made a change when you are challenged. You have to know what the rules are, and what the bogus rules are. You need to be able to distinguish style guidelines and personal preferences from actual rules. You need to know who the reliable authorities are, and you have to be able to make sensible judgments when those reliable authorities disagree. (They will.)

Of course McIntyre is writing to copy editors, but art touches art touches art, and much of what he says is relevant to writers (especially writers who ruthlessly self-edit—far too few of that breed). Heck, it’s just good to live by.

Read the whole post, and let me know what you think. Do you think he’s right? What advice would you give, different or additional, if you were speaking to some wet-eared student in your field? And is that bit true about how (NOT) to use microwaves?

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3 thoughts on “a copy editor writes this blog?

  1. I think he’s right. I’m a writer, not an editor, but good editors save writers’ butts. Writers should be properly grateful. I’ll add that his advice for editors applies to writers, too.

    He’s also right about the microwave issue. The odor will linger for days. I know this from sad experience.

  2. I didn’t know you were a copy editor! I used to work in text development for a software company, so I have some experience with unifying ellipses and spacing and em/endashes/hyphens, etc. Not that you’d ever know that from the inconsistencies that creep into my blog. 🙂 But Streetwise looks like an awesome magazine.

    Ah, shortcuts to removing double-spaces–I’d totally read about that. My keyboard double- and triple-types all the time. Or maybe that should be blamed on my typing. Haha.

  3. As a copy editor myself, I’ve admired McIntyre’s blog since practically my first day on the job. The man knows his stuff.

    For copyeditors, my advice would be, “When your job involves pointing out to people that they’ve made dozens of big honkin’ mistakes, every ounce of tact you can muster will work to your advantage.”

    For writers, my advice is, “Try not to make so many big honkin’ mistakes! Also, learn grammar, quit overwriting, and check everything twice before I have to. Finally, instead of yelling at us for the comma we missed, thank us profusely for noticing that you typed ‘Pail’ instead of ‘Paul.'”

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