Copy editing

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Copy editing

When content has spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or false information, it can be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Take this convenience store ad, which needed a bit more…imagination.


Or this mistake, which cost the company more than its reputation.


Typos are bad enough, but they’re far from the only issues that can limit your brand’s reach. From overused clichés to false information, copy editors help to buff away these problems and protect your brand’s reputation. 

What is copy editing?

Copy editing is the process of reviewing and cleaning up content to improve its quality, readability, and flow. 

Copy editors are usually the first people to receive a draft after it’s written. They correct and reorganize the content, ensuring that the end product—and the brand that it represents—appears inviting and professional. 

Their edits may include:

  • Fixing obvious spelling or grammatical errors
  • Finding inconsistencies, such as fluctuations in tense or brand voice mid-piece
  • Restructuring sentences and paragraphs to improve the flow
  • Highlighting or removing incorrect information
  • Formatting content according to relevant style guidelines

Along with technical improvements, copy editors identify repetitive information and weak points within the writing. By the time the copy editing phase is over, the content should be clear and concise. A copy editor's job is to ultimately ensure that the company is always putting its best foot forward. 

What is copy editing vs proofreading?

Copy editing and proofreading may appear one and the same, but, in actuality, they serve two different purposes.

A copy editor dives deep into the content, checking for any issues in structure, grammar, flow, and messaging.

A proofreader oftens receives the draft after the copy editor has given the thumbs up. Proofreaders check for any remaining typos and formatting issues—such as extra spaces or odd word breaks—that may have been missed. Once they give the okay, the piece is ready to be published.

What is the importance of copy editing?

Even the best writers make mistakes. As a copy editor, it’s your job to fix these problems before anyone else notices them. 

In fact, research shows that spelling errors and grammatical mistakes can cause websites to lose nearly twice as many potential customers than sites without them. 

According to the same report, people are 70% less likely to click on a Google Ad that contains typos. And, because Google typically suppresses ads that have low click-through rates or high bounce rates, you could see a dip in impressions and pay up to 72% more per ad click.

Put simply, copy editing helps you maintain the reputation that you’ve built. The extra time you invest in improving your copy shows potential customers that you pay attention to details and are committed to quality.

Who usually needs copy editing services?

Any writer can benefit from copy editing, but most copy editing requests will come from organizations that produce a lot of content, such as:

  • Book publishers
  • News organizations (print, broadcast, and online)
  • Marketing teams
  • Agencies
  • Students
  • Writers

Depending on the job, you may edit a variety of content for a single organization or focus on a specific type of copy for multiple clients. 

If you work on a marketing team, for example, you may be responsible for editing ads, ebooks, social media posts, web pages, and more. However, as a freelance copy editor, you may choose to limit your services to a few types of projects, like novels and educational courses. 

Top 4 qualities of a copy editor

Copy editors may not be writing the material from the get-go, but they still have to know the best ways to communicate through a specific medium. Since you are the one who is doing the deepest dive into the content, after proofreading, you bear just as much responsibility as the writer.

Sharpening the skills below will make sure you can catch any errors and guide writers to elevate their work to its best.

1. Strong grammar skills

Proper grammar is your top priority. Though flow and formatting are equally important, these elements may not be as obvious to the average reader. 

Start by brushing up on your grammar and spelling. If you can’t quite remember high school English class, refresh your understanding of prepositions, weird language rules, and the dos and don’ts of proper writing.

You should also invest in tools that will catch the mistakes you miss. Writing aid software, such as Grammarly, will identify odd wording, typos, and other technical errors. Tricks, such as reading the copy out loud, can reveal issues that you might not have seen when reading the copy in your head.

Even if you use the best tools on the market, don’t expect them to find every problem or be right every time. Sharpen your grammar knowledge so you can confidently approve every piece you edit.

2. Attention to detail

To succeed as a copy editor, you have to have eagle eyes for other important factors like accuracy, completeness, SEO (when relevant), and proper brand representation. The details you should catch include:

  • If the writer has met the requirements for the piece
  • Whether a section or sentence would flow better in a different place
  • If links are relevant and attached to the right anchor text
  • The relevance of the information included
  • Wordy sentences that can be slimmed down

Since you have so many elements to look for, you may want to focus on each segment separately. Go over the copy once looking for grammar mistakes, then again for formatting issues. If the words start running together, take a break. You can then go back to the content with fresh eyes.

3. Familiarity with style guides

Most organizations rely on brand style guides and/or commonly used style guides like the AP Stylebook to keep their content consistent. These documents offer rules for grammar, spelling, formatting, and other areas of writing. Rather than juggling the opinions of multiple writers and editors, you can look to one of these  manuals as a source of truth.

As a copy editor, you should be familiar with and have access to the style guides your organization uses. Each option has its own rules, so avoid substituting one style book for another. 

4. Understanding of good writing

Error-free writing doesn’t necessarily equate to good writing. As you find and fix the technical mistakes, you also need to evaluate the overall quality of the content.

Become familiar with best practices for different types of writing and channels. Pay attention to your own feelings about the content. If the copy seems boring or choppy, other readers may get the same impression. It’s your job to think from your target readers’ perspectives and make sure that the copy resonates with them.

Most importantly, learn how to communicate these weaknesses to writers. Remember that they take pride in their work, so your edits should be constructive. You’re building them up to be better, not tearing them down. As you coach them to become better writers, your work together can create incredible content.

The bottom line

Copy editors are often the unsung heroes for any piece of content. If you want to pursue this vital role as a freelancer, Hectic is the best place to start for all of your business needs. It offers all of the tools you need to start, manage, and grow a thriving freelance business. Best of all, everything you need is completely free. Sign up for your free account today.