Copyediting Tutorial #1

Q: How can I write better?

A: Study the copyedits of an editor.

How to use this page:

In the blockquote section below is a rough draft I hacked into shape. Corrections are in red. Suggested replacements are in blue.

Step 1: Study the edits and try to guess why I suggested the corrections. Doing so will prime your mind to think like an editor.

Step 2: Scroll down to the Notes section and read my rationale for the changes. Doing so will confirm how well you guessed in step 1.

Step 3: Share some of your passion (or downright hatred) for editing in the comments.

This tutorial is a full course meal designed for digesting in one sitting. We’ll create bite-sized blog posts containing one copyediting concept per post.That way, if studying copyediting in small chunks is more your style, these full tutorials won’t overwhelm you.

Enjoy copyediting tutorial #1.

Your Blog is Boring. These 7 Things Will Fix It! (Fix It In 7 Simple Steps)

I bet your blog is boring.

Nothing personal, just math. Seventy million blogs litter the digital landscape with mediocrity and repetition.

Separating the good from the bad isn’t too difficult, but weaving through the weeds of hum-drum, me-too, been there done that is wearisome.

Among the worst are b(B)logs coming close to awesomeness, yet fading into echo almost by accident (are among the worst). You see it within seconds of landing on the pageit looks like just another(your average) blog, yet effort pops from the pixels.

Sound familiar?

If this is you, then good news, you’re almost there(If we just described your blog, cheer up. You’ve almost defeated boring.)You’ve read a metric ton of blogging tips and have gone a long way to sharpen(succeeded in sharpening) your voice. Now it’s(It’s) time to ask what else you can do(do what it takes) to stand apart. Because doing nothing leaves you a click away from irrelevance.

7 Ways to Be Differentand Most of Them Are Free!
1) Have a logo or header grab reader attention the instant they click on the page(arrive).
A custom header is best, something(a beacon) to let the reader know from the first second (shouting how unique) you and your blog are both unique. A stock, out-of-the-box header won’t cut it. A custom header reinforces the branding you’ve built, and leads your visitor(s) toward whatever action you’d like them taking(your desired action).

2) Crush it from the first sentence forward. Your opening sentence is a pie in the windowsill, inviting the reader to come inside and(to) make themselves at home. Your first sentence either introduces you to a reader for the first time or continues a conversation. Either way, use it to make your reader smile, think, or wonder. Manage this in the first few seconds and you will place yourself far ahead of (you’ll crush) the competition.

3) Say Something. No, not the same-old stuff that everyone else is saying(says). We’re all unique,(comma splice)(;) we have different points of view. So why do so many blogs sound like they could be written by anyone(anyone could write them)? Most bloggers fear saying the wrong thing, so they just parrot what everyone else is saying(says). But take a look at (study)the must-read blogs. They are written by people who aren’t afraid to give their opinions, haters be damned(Unafraid people with passionate opinions and haters-be-damned attitudes wrote them). We’re not saying to(This doesn’t mean) be provocative for provocative’s sakethat gets(that’s) boring. But when you have something to say which truly adds (valuable to add) to the subject, don’t just say it, shout it from the rooftops!

4) Pay attention to your theme. If you’re serious about your site, build it with a premium theme. Most premium themes cost under $100, are easily customized(customize easily), and help you stand apart from a sea of sameness. Even small tweaks such as color changes or sidebar additions will help your site look professional. Most premium themes allow you to do(offer) this out of the box, without having to know tons of code(requiring coding know-how). Even if you’re not a(in) business and have nothing to sell(sell nothing), a professional look lets people know you’re serious. That alone is enough to set you apart.

5) Layout is important. Too many blogs fade into the background because their layout suffers from a vacuum of imagination. If your site sports nothing but a traditional body of copy and a right sidebar filled with AdSense links or 125 x 125 square ads, your blog is not unique. Your blog is your canvas, the layout the picture you paint for readers. Images, sidebar placement, calls to action and typographyall blend into your(the) reader experience. The more(closer to) unique that experience (gets), the less boring your blog will be(becomes). The less boring your blog, the more likely the average reader is to(will) subscribe or(and) share it with others.

6) An obvious call to action. It’s all too easy to forget this, or do it entirely wrong. Most blogs have either(either have) no call to action, or beat you over the head with it(one). What do you want from your readers? What is the most important thing they should do (action they should take) after arriving at your website? Do you want them to follow you on Twitter? Subscribe to your RSS or email feeds? Click for a free e-book or item? Friend you on Facebook? That is your call to action. Make your call to action easy to find and easier to fulfill. Some bloggers shoot for the moon right off the bat, using complicated forms asking for email, real names, addresses, and everything but their height and weight. Make your call to action so simple and enticing that it invites(entices) clicks.

7) Let your readers see the real you. Not the you which you trot out for the most formal of events, but the you that picks their nose(nose picks) every once in a while (not that I’ve ever picked my nose, (not) even once in my entire life). Too many blogs preach from the pulpit. It’s always better to let(letting) the real you come out and mingle with the masses. It’s far easier to build(building) a community when you are genuinely a part of it.

Most blogs are boring because the bloggers behind them (their bloggers) are bored or aren’t tapping their potential. Find your voice, be yourself, and let your blog reflect the real you(add period) and you’ll have people eagerly seeking out (Do so and people will eagerly seek) your posts rather than (instead of) approaching them with a yawn.

NOTES:

  1. These 7 Things Will Fix It (Fix It In 7 Simple Steps) – Start your sentences with verbs or nouns whenever possible. Avoid ambiguous terms like Things whenever possible. Add some alliteration (7 Simple Steps) whenever possible.
  2. Among the worst are b(B)logs coming close to awesomeness, yet fading into echo almost by accident (are among the worst) – This sentence starts with a preposition, an article (whatever the hell that is, huh), an adjective, and the weak verb are. Refer to note #1 about starting with nouns and verbs.
  3. it looks like just another(your average) blog – Some phrases are hard to read. Looks like just another is an example. Say it five times and you’ll hear what I mean. Replace words that trip your tongue if possible.
  4. If this is you, then good news, you’re almost there(If we just described your blog, cheer up. You’ve almost defeated boring.) – Some words have assumed meaning relative to previous statements. Try to be more specific in these instances. This, you, and there are three examples in the sentence above. I know this means the state of having a boring blog. I know you refers to the blog and not the person. I know there means the blogger is close to fixing a boring blog. So, why not just say so? (Note: The author often uses words in unique ways. I used boring as a noun to match his style.)
  5. You’ve read a metric ton of blogging tips and have gone a long way to sharpen(succeeded in sharpening) your voice. – Beware of flabby words and phrases. The phrase have gone a long way to is flabby, so I replaced it with succeeded in, and used the ing form of sharpen. Six words down to two, a savings of four words. In a reader’s busy world, brevity matters.
  6. Now it’s(It’s) time to ask what else you can do(do what it takes) to stand apart. – Beware of unnecessary, implied words. It’s time already implies that now would be a good time. Lead with the most important verbs if possible. In this case, do moves to the front.
  7. 7 Ways to Be Different—And Most Of Them Are Free! – More unnecessary, implied words. Most Are Free says the same thing without adding Of Them.
  8. Have a logo or header grab reader attention the instant they click on the page(arrive). – Removed the flab. Four words down to one. A savings of three words.
  9. A custom header is best, something(a beacon) to let the reader know from the first second (shouting how unique) you and your blog are both unique.Beacon replaces the ambiguous word something. Shouting replaces the weaker let the reader know verb construction. Removed the flab. Twenty two words down to 14. A savings of eight words.
  10. A custom header reinforces the branding you’ve built, and leads your visitor(s) toward whatever action you’d like them taking(your desired action). – Added an s to visitor so it doesn’t read as though the author thinks his reader only has one visitor. Removed the flab. Six words down to three. (NOTE: I should have changed “reader” in the previous sentences  to “readers.” I missed that. Thanks for your comment, John.)
  11. Your opening sentence is a pie in the windowsill, inviting the reader to come inside and(to) make themselves at home. – More unnecessary, implied words. Invite the reader inside and it’s assumed they will come inside. Had to replace and with to so the sentence would make sense.
  12. Your first sentence either introduces you to a reader for the first time or continues a conversation. – Redundant phrase. Introduce means for the first time.
  13. Either way, use it to make your reader smile, think, or wonder. – Remove unnecessary words that hide your power verbs, in this case make.
  14. Manage this in the first few seconds and you will place yourself far ahead of (you’ll crush) the competition. – Replaced a flabby verb construction with the more powerful verb crush. Removed the flab. Seven words  down to two. A savings of five words.
  15. No, not the same-old stuff that everyone else is saying(says). – Remove the word that whenever possible, as long as it doesn’t alter the meaning of the sentence. I replaced the present progressive tense verb is saying with the present simple tense verb says, mainly to shave one word, not so much that I believed everyone says the same old stuff more than just at present, which is saying indicates. Research verb tenses if you truly wish to master such arcane distinctions.
  16. We’re all unique,(comma splice)(;) we have different points of view. – If you have two independent clauses not connected by a conjunction, you need a semicolon or a period.
  17. So why do so many blogs sound like they could be written by anyone(anyone could write them)? – Passive voice alert. Put the subject of the action first.
  18. Most bloggers fear saying the wrong thing, so they just parrot what everyone else is saying(says) – Refer to note #15 about verb tenses. I mainly used says to shave a word for brevity’s sake.
  19. But take a look at (study)the must-read blogs. – Removed the flab. Four words become one. A savings of three words.
  20. They are written by people who aren’t afraid to give their opinions, haters be damned(Unafraid people with passionate opinions and haters-be-damned attitudes wrote them). – Passive voice alert. Put the subject of the action first. Removed the flab. People who aren’t afraid to give their opinions became unafraid people with passionate opinions. Eight words became five. A savings of three words.
  21. We’re not saying to(This doesn’t mean) be provocative for provocative’s sakethat gets(that’s) boring. – Not necessarily cutting flab here, just tightening it a bit.
  22. But when you have something to say which truly adds (valuable to add) to the subject, don’t just say it, shout it from the rooftops! – Removed the flab. Five words became three. A savings of two words. To say is implied with something valuable to add. We assume when you add to a conversation, you will say it.
  23. Most premium themes cost under $100, are easily customized(customize easily), and help you stand apart from a sea of sameness. – Passive voice alert. Problem with verb-subject focus, too. Changed so all three verbs refer to the theme and not the person customizing it. So premium themes cost, customize, and help.
  24. Most premium themes allow you to do(offer) this out of the box, without having to know tons of code(requiring coding know-how). – Used more powerful verbs. Removed the flab. Ten words became four. A savings of six words.
  25. Even if you’re not a(in) business and have nothing to sell(sell nothing), – Technically a person is not a business, they are in business. Moved my power verb sell to the front.
  26. Images, sidebar placement, calls to action and typographyall blend into your(the) reader experience. – The author is trying to help the readers of the person reading this advice, so it’s more accurate to say the reader experience.
  27. The more(closer to) unique that experience (gets), the less boring your blog will be(becomes). – If something is unique, it can’t be more unique or less unique. Added gets so the new sentence would make sense. Used becomes to shave a word.
  28. The less boring your blog, the more likely the average reader is to(will) subscribe or(and) share it with others. – Used will to shave a word. Used and instead of or because I thought subscribing and sharing should be a group and not an either/or choice.
  29. An obvious call to action. It’s all too easy to forget this, or do it entirely wrong . – Deleted the word this to shave a word. Deleted it entirely, because if it’s wrong, it’s entirely not right. (NOTE: I should have use “incorrectly” instead of “do wrong”, since do wrong means to cause harm. Thanks again to John in the comments.)
  30. Most blogs have either(either have) no call to action, or beat you over the head with it(one). – Some people use have either, but placing either after the verb have, and placing or before the verb beat makes for a clunky read. I’d rather have conjunction-verb-conjunction-verb than verb-conjunction-conjunction-verb. Changed it to one because the author is talking about blogs, plural, and it is singular. One is an all-encompassing term.
  31. What is the most important thing they should do (action they should take) after arriving at your website? – Use specific, more powerful verbs. At your site is unnesessary and already implied by the word arriving.
  32. Make your call to action so simple and enticing that it invites(entices) clicks. — Repetition is a useful rhythmic tool.
  33. Not the you which you trot out for the most formal of events, but the you that picks their nose(nose picks) every once in a while (not that I’ve ever picked my nose, (not) even once in my entire life) – Used nose picks to shave a word. I delete the word every every chance I get. Deleted in my entire life, because not even once implies the author’s entire life. ERROR – Instead of Not the you which, I should have put Not the you who, and instead of but the you that, I should have put but the you who. Use who when dealing with people. Which and that refer to things or groups.
  34. It’s always better to let(letting) the real you come out and mingle with the masses. It’s far easier to build(building) a community when you are genuinely a part of it. — Used the ing form of these two verbs to shave two words. The word a in genuinely a part of it is unnesessary, so I shaved another word.
  35. Most blogs are boring because the bloggers behind them (their bloggers) are bored or aren’t tapping their potential. – Removed the flab. Four words became two. A savings of two words.
  36. Find your voice, be yourself, and let your blog reflect the real you(add period) and you’ll have people eagerly seeking out (Do so and people will eagerly seek) your posts rather than (instead of) approaching them with a yawn. – Added a period to break this long sentence apart. Used seek instead of seeking out to shave a word. Used instead of in place of rather than. Say both phrases five times, and you’ll hear how instead of is easier on the tongue.

That’s it for Copyediting Tutorial #1. Good thing, too, because my brain aches after this much knowledge transfer. Comment below so I know whether or not to continue torturing myself. 😉

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15 Comments on “Copyediting Tutorial #1”

  1. […] those visual learners out there, I created a video deconstruction of Copy Editing Tutorial #1. Enjoy and let us know what you think in the […]

  2. This is awesome–staring my mistakes in the face! Would spread the word.

  3. John Cowan says:

    I came here from John McIntyre’s site, where he says “Check out the copyediting tutorials and see how much you agree with”, and so I have. I’ll omit things I agree with and only include my disagreements, which accounts for the highly negative tone of this comment.

    The biggest problem with your editing is that you are obsessed with removing words at the expense of all other values, including the preservation of tone and even clarity. Doing so may be necessary when copyediting news, where space is indeed all, but that treatment isn’t appropriate for this piece.

    Note 2: The strongest place in a sentence may be the beginning or the end; in this case it’s the end. Moving the strong words to the beginning makes the sentence trail off halfheartedly.

    Note 4: “Defeated boring” is mondo confusing: put quotes around “boring”, or better yet, reword.

    Note 5: “A metric ton of X” is a tired cliche, none the less so for being fairly new. Removing it is far more important than the change you made.

    Note 7: “Most” as a noun is high-register (formal) English and thus inappropriate for this piece. Leave “most of them” alone.

    Note 8: “Click on the page” is bad, but not for the reason you give; the problem is that you see the logo when you click on a link to the page, not when you click on the page itself.

    Note 9: I’m not myself bothered by “how unique”, but lots of picky people are, because it is an implied comparison meaning “to what extent something is unique”; see Note 27. The original doesn’t have this problem.

    Note 10: If you leave “reader” alone in the previous sentence, why change “visitor” here?

    Note 14: “Crush the competition” is a very different metaphor from “get ahead of the competition”. The latter is a race, the former a battle. Admittedly, the bolded sentence says “crush it”, which by the way has a vague “it” that should be fixed; is it the reader that’s being crushed? Hopefully not.

    Note 15: This is a serious miscorrection. “Says” and “is saying” don’t mean the same thing: the former means habitual action, the latter, immediate action. “To say what everyone else says” means to repeat cliches; “to say what everyone else is saying” means to repeat whatever is currently in vogue, which is what the author meant.

    Note 17: “Anyone” is not a particularly strong subject; the passive puts it at the end. This contradicts my remarks on Note 2, but prose sentences need a variety of rhythms. If all sentences have strong ends, the reader gets worn out by the excessively rhetorical style.

    Note 20: “Unafraid people” is not natural English. The passive is appropriate here, because the subject is blogs, not their authors.

    Note 21: “This doesn’t mean be provocative for provocative’s sake” is grammatically bumpy. Try “This doesn’t mean being provocative for provocation’s sake.”

    Note 23: “Customize easily” suggests that the themes customize themselves easily, which is of course not the case. “Are easily customized” is the right thing here.

    Note 25: “Sell nothing” is grossly unnatural English, not even high register. Leave this one alone.

    Note 29: “Do wrong” is an idiom for “commit a crime/sin” (as in “She done him wrong”), which is not at all what you want. And doing it wrong is not the same as doing it entirely wrong. No change is warranted here either.

    Note 32: Repetition can be a good thing, but this repetition is a jangle.

    Note 33: “Nose picks”? Whoever says or writes that? It suggests some kind of lottery ticket, the kind you don’t actually want to win.

    Note 36: “Do so” is another case of inappropriately high register.

    I look forward to your responses (and I concede that some of my comments are a matter of taste) before moving on to #2 and #3.

    • Shane says:

      @John: I don’t mind a highly negative tone at all (and I didn’t take it that way either). I’ll be the first to admit, whether it be from time constraints or just blind spots, that I don’t see everything. When I get time later, I’ll respond to your comments, but thanks for taking your time to do what you did.

    • Shane says:

      @John:

      Note2: Trailoff perhaps, but I still thought it better to start this sentence with noun, verb.

      Note4: Sean’s readers are familiar with his style. He often uses words in ways that would make any English teacher cry, so I left that in there. But you brought to my attention that I forgot to add this to my notes. Thank you. I’ll add that since I believe it’s an important point to cover.

      Note5: Again, Sean’s style is to throw in a cliche here and there, so I let him have some fun. His readers are used to this.

      Note 7: I didn’t think it was too high-register. Most of Sean’s audience are writers, so I didn’t think they would mind this.

      Note 8: Haha. You’re right. I didn’t even notice that. I was in hack mode. Readers indeed won’t click on the page the moment they arrive. They already clicked to get there. 🙂

      Note 9: Good point. I was trying to avoid using uniqueness, but looking at it now, I think I should have said something like, “A custom header is best, a beacon shouting, “This blog is unique.”

      Note 10: Damn! I missed that one. Thanks.

      Note 14: Crush may be a bit strong here, but deep down, that’s what bloggers want to do. 🙂 And I understand what you said about crush it. “It” was my father’s biggest peeve and he always reminded me of this, but I left it in there because Sean uses terms like this.

      Note 15: But, he’s using same “old” stuff implying that what people are saying, they have been saying for quite some time.

      Note 17: I agree with having a variety of rhythms, but I don’t think the change will wear them out in this instance.

      Note 20: Agree that unafraid people is not natural English. I don’t think the way I wrote this sentence would confuse readers as to what “them” refers to, but if I wished to be more exact, I could have written, “Unafraid people with passionate opinions and haters-be-damned attitudes wrote these blogs.”

      Note 21: I agree your suggestion is more sound, but Sean loves him some personification. 🙂

      Note 23: You are right. “Customize easily” does suggests that the themes customize themselves, but I don’t think Sean’s audience will read it that way.

      Note 25: I agree we can’t sell jars or boxes of nothing, but I was aiming for how people would talk. I could hear myself saying this phrase, so I thought it was okay.

      Note 29: I should have used “incorrectly” perhaps. I said if it’s wrong it’s entirely not right because I was viewing a call to action as something that either brings in sale or does not.

      Note 32: John, you have to give me a pass on that one! IT’s not a jangle. I like it. 🙂

      Note 33: I’m laughing too hard to respond seriously. 🙂

      Note 36: I don’t think it’s too high-register for his audience, but you are right in that not everyone writes in this style.

      Johh, let me end by stating how awesome I think your comments were. You’re a bad-ass! I sure hope you do this for a living. You can watch my back any time you wish. I’ll be all the better for it.
      Thanks.

  4. John Cowan says:

    Thanks for the compliment. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m strictly non-professional. I was briefly the copyeditor for a failing college newspaper (hey, none of us were paid), but nowadays I make my living as a computer technologist, and do this sort of thing only for family, friends, and random strangers on the Internet.

  5. Mo says:

    This is a revelation. I didn´t know people blogged about these things. I love it. I couldn´t hope to join the debate yet but I´ve enjoyed it very much. I´ve taken on board the content on blogging too. If anyone would like to take a peek at my amateur blog and comment I´d be really pleased, however harsh the criticism might be. I´m working towards professionalizing it (slowly). Better get off now, getting paranoid about sentence structure, punctuation, grammar ….

    • Shane says:

      @Mo: Thanks for visiting. I’m glad you like it. Makes me want to create more tutorials (I’ve been behind on updates so comments like yours help).

  6. Noga says:

    Thank you so much! I learnt a lot from this.

    Keep posting!

  7. Paul Jun says:

    This is incredible, great work.

    I can’t believe I actually was able to find something like this. Not only is this teaching how to be concise, but the power of punctuation and less words seems obvious.

    Definitely leaving this site up at all times and studying the hell out of it.

    Thank you, and great work

  8. This is an amazing post Shane…. I found this through Income Diary… I’m so glad I checked it out…

    • Shane says:

      @Kelvin: I’ve been MIA for a long time. Thanks for the comment; makes all the hard work with the time. I hope to update this site soon. I’ve been busy working on my first book.

  9. thisiswellbeing says:

    Thank you, thank you! I have been looking for a site like yours. I am new to blogging and have a lot of ideas. My writing skills let me down and my personality gets in the way of effective writing! I write how I speak! I will be re-reading your site and practicing!


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