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Copy that! A behind-the-scenes look at copy-editing
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I was listening to a TV commercial when I heard the phrase, “Copy that!” It occurred to me that this phrase, which means “I heard that” or “I understand” is relevant to my work. As a copy-editor, my task is to demonstrate to my clients that I understand how to improve their writing in areas such as grammar, spelling, consistency of usage, punctuation, and capitalization.

If you have material that you want copy-edited, what should you be looking for as far as a finished product?

For a quick demonstration, I provide an excerpt of a transcript I produced from a Red Cross interview.

The audio of this interview is located here:
In the following sections, you will see my copy-edited version.

Reynolds Wolf: This is the AMHQ WEEKEND. You know, summer is a very busy season for American families. You guys already know that, right? Of course you do. But think about this before you pack up the car and the kids on vacation: someone in this country needs a blood transfusion every single, [sic] well every two seconds. Chris Hrouda is the executive vice president of biomedical services. He’s with us this morning. And we are chatting with him about the American Red Cross. Chris, thanks so much for spending time with us. And it’s hard to believe, the summer months, really a difficult time to collect blood to meet patients’ needs.”

To improve the writing of this excerpt, I consulted William Zinsser’s classic writing instruction manual, On Writing Well.

I followed three of his principles for writing well:

1.Write in the first person.

2. Write clearly and simply. Eliminate wordiness and clutter.

3. Avoid jargon and clichés.

Here is a quick summary of how I applied Zinsser’s tips:

1.Write in the first person.

I removed the second-person and third-person references (e.g., you and we, respectively).

2. Write clearly and simply. Eliminate wordiness and clutter.

I removed the words, “right,” and “Of course you do” to eliminate wordiness. While Zinsser’s manual does not explicitly forbid using the conjunction “and” at the beginning of a sentence, I removed the two occurrences in this excerpt because they are repetitive. I also removed extra punctuation and inserted an appropriate active verb and pronoun to convey clarity of thought in the last sentence.

3. Avoid jargon and clichés.

I removed the commonly overused phrase, “you know.”

The following section is my copy-edited version of the excerpt after applying Zinsser’s tips:

Reynolds Wolf: This is the AMHQ WEEKEND. Summer is a very busy season for American families. I believe most people know that. I encourage you to think about this before you pack up the car and the kids on vacation: someone in this country needs a blood transfusion every two seconds. Chris Hrouda is the executive vice president of biomedical services. This morning we are chatting with him about the American Red Cross. Chris, thanks so much for spending time with us. It’s hard to believe that the summer months are really a difficult time to collect blood to meet patients’ needs.”

In short, my copy-edited version exhibits clearer, efficient writing while maintaining as much of the interviewer’s message and style of speaking as possible. Whether the copy-editing is for a transcript, a newsletter, a website, or other material, the finished product should be clear, concise, and compelling. Along with reviewing the writing of the finished product, it is a good idea to read it out loud to see how it sounds to you.



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About the Author

Yvette Williams, The Esteemed Scribe
78 Midfield Drive Apt 8
Waterbury, CT 06705
202-521-1485

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