How to Copy-Edit Yourself

Alli Holmes doesn’t know how to write a biography on herself and enjoys the simplistic insanity of referring to herself in third person. She’s been helping out in miscellaneous areas like blogs, article writing, and some talented Googling, but has mainly been copy-editing the TBL journal for almost a year now. She is currently majoring in English and teaching at Arapahoe Community College but is obsessively planning and hoping to transfer to Denver University later on.

How to Copy-Edit Yourself

by Alli Holmes

Copy editing is not any writer’s favorite part of the writing process. You have to sit down and look for silly grammar and technical mistakes when you would much rather bask in the sense of accomplishment from finishing a new piece. But if you’re serious about your writing, it needs to be done.

Our first recommendation is to get a second set of eyes on your work. Since that’s not always an option, we’ve made this guide to help you go about it yourself.

While it can be hard to catch your own little errors, copy editing is essential to make your work appear as professional as possible. It also shows how much dedication and time you put into going over your work not only for content, but for those tricky little mistakes that we all make. It can be tough, but we’re here to make this easier for you.

Walk Away

Staring at a piece for hours on end will get you stuck in the flow of a story, filling in words that aren’t there, ignoring things like possessive vs. plural, homonyms, and all those easy to read over mistakes. Familiarity is your worst enemy for fixing your own work. Giving your mind a fresh start later will be more beneficial for finding those mistakes.

Focused Reading

Now, we wish it were easier, but you have to look very carefully to find problems in your work. It’s very hard to be able to copy edit when you are so familiar with your piece, so read slowly; reading quickly will only allow you to pass over any possible mistakes. Try reading every word like it is foreign to you. Reading aloud helps with that. It can get annoying after a while, but just keep going; it gets easier. Another way of going about this is printing out your work and correcting mistakes with a pen. For some reason there’s a big difference between how you read and what you catch on a computer compared to having the physical paper in front of you.

Don’t rely on spellcheck

Spell check can be like auto-correct, but not as funny. While spell check is very useful, it misses a lot of errors. For example, it will let you use a homonym or similarly spelled word in lieu of the right one. Once you have come across a problem in your work, go ahead and fix it, but be cautious; sometimes fixing a word or a comma isn’t enough. Read the sentence or few preceding the error you found to be sure that it’s the only thing that needs to be corrected and to be sure your sentence structure is looking top-notch.

Repeat

Check and make sure that you have caught all the mistakes that you could possibly catch. Sometimes we skim over problems even when we are specifically looking for them, so it’s always good to go over your work multiple times, just as you did when you were writing it.

Copy editing can be boring and tedious, but it’s worth it in the long run. When submitting your work, some places will stop reading after the first or second mistake, so it’s crucial to get it right the first time.

Realizing how many errors there are to fix within your work can be less than satisfying and borderline infuriating. But that’s the cost of knowing your work is perfect.

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