Why copy-editing is like gardening

Pruning a bush: why copy-editing is like gardeningLike many of you, the recent spate of spring sunshine has enticed me out into the garden to do some much-needed tidying and cutting back in the borders.

While snipping away with my secateurs, it occurred to me that copy-editing and gardening have quite a lot in common.

Allow me to explain…

What is copy-editing?

First, we should clarify exactly what copy-editing is.

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders states that the aim of copy-editing is “to ensure that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. This process picks up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.

It then goes on to summarise all the main tasks of copy-editing (which I won’t repeat here) before concluding:

The result of all this work is a document that is clear, correct, coherent, complete, concise, consistent and credible – the seven Cs of editing.

Not all copy-editing is the same

Just as in gardening, there are several different types of copy-editing.

The level chosen for a specific job largely depends on what’s required to achieve the desired outcome as well as the given timeframe and available budget.

1) A quick spot of weeding to remove unwelcome ‘nasties’: if what the text needs is mainly a check of spelling, punctuation and grammar, then you probably need a proofreader rather than a copy-editor.

2) A touch of light pruning to make it look neater: standard editing will also check for style, usage, overly long sentences, excessive use of italic, bold, capitals, exclamation marks and the passive voice.

3) A major cutting back to remove any dead wood: more interventionist copy-editing will take a more radical approach by reviewing and correcting content, structure and flow – chopping out superfluous wording or suggesting alternatives.

4) A replanting job to improve the overall effect: extensive rewriting or restructuring (known as substantive editing) isn’t usually part of a standard copy-editor’s remit, although many professional copy-editors offer it as an additional service.

To continue the gardening analogy, sometimes it’s necessary to start completely from scratch with an empty flowerpot or bare patch of earth. Or, in this case, a blank piece of paper or blank computer screen. This is actually copywriting rather than copy-editing, which is a different skill set altogether.

One of the things I enjoy about copy-editing is the variety of the work. Plus the satisfaction when the job’s complete and my input has made a visible difference.

Just like gardening, in fact.

Now all I need to do is work out how to move my desk into the garden!

(image courtesy of Natara via Freedigitalphotos.net)

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