Copy-editing tips for beginners

When you first apply for a copy-editing position, you might assume your job will be limited with surface errors;it will be done after correcting spelling, prepositions and some connecting phrases. And when you realize that you are expected to change sentence structures, deal with proper usage and remove ambiguities, you will be struggling to understand your limits. How far can I edit, where shall I begin from and where should I stop? I know exactly how you are feeling and am willing to help.

1. Build your own copyediting bookshelf. Diana Hacker, Jan Venola, Strunk & White, AP Stylebook, Chicago Style are some of the best writers & resources I can recommend. Also check online resources, i.e. or grammar girl at Read and learn about sentences, punctuation, capitalization, usage, style, register, etc.

2. Be consistent with yourself. Have you noticed I wrote copy editing differently until now. If yes, then your error eye is promising. If not, keep working on it. And after several months if you still cannot recognize consistency errors, quit this job and start another career.

3. Vary your sentences so that readers enjoy reading your copy. The universal rule is to be clear and concise, yet if you chop every sentence into pieces and drop every relative clause, it will sound robotic.

4. Prefer active voice. Many Turkish translators abuse passive voice. Do not hesitate to rewrite the sentence in active voice.

5. Prefer bullet points, otherwise some Turkish paragraphs will never end and the verb will be in the end (typical Turkish translation error of superimposing Turkish word order into English language). Find the verb, put it in the beginning and rewrite the rest.

6. Replace descriptive relative clauses with an adjective or phrase.


Wrong: The process which we have been developing for 10 years, will be completed by the end of this year.

Correct: We will be completing the 10-year process by the end of this year. (The 10-year process will be complete by the end of this year.)

7. Replace verb + noun with verb. See examples below:

submit an application apply for
provide support support
making improvements improve
by taking into consideration by considering
present a detailed explanation of explain in detail / elaborate

8. Focus on usage. We are paid by word (or by characters), so make it count. Languages do not contain equal number of words. And non-native speakers of English may not always know the differences. Your job is find and choose the correct synonym.

Example 1: “Bildirmek” in Turkish can be “inform, notify, report of feedback” in English.

Example 2: “Toplantı” in Turkish can be “meeting, gathering, conference or congress” in English.

Example 3: “Açıklamak” in Turkish means “explain, describe, announce, detail or eleborate” in English

9. Benchmark your copy against global references written & maintained by native speakers. If you are working on a banking report, read Chase, RBS, City or Merril Lynch. If you are asked to copy edit a CEO Letter of Chariman’s Statement, read C-level statements of multinational companies. Benchmarking will inspire you about sentence structures, word choices and setting the tone & register.

10 Research and confirm facts, names and titles. Is it really the 10th Symposium on Nutrition or the 9th International Conference on Healthy Food.

In summary, do not limit yourself with obvious surface errors. Be resourceful, read a lot and benchmark your skills.


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