Teletext might not have represented bleeding edge technology in 2005, when I joined The Press Association, but writing for the medium was like attending a military training course in copy editing.
Editing sports news and match reports to fit into three short paragraphs of blocky text allowed me to develop an instinct for brevity that George Orwell would have been proud of.
In Politics and the English Language (1946), Orwell laid out six rules for authors that now serve as a set of commandments for copy editors:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules apply to most editing projects, and they underpin a common sense approach that ensures copy communicates clearly to its audience.
Before beginning any copy editing project, I work closely with clients to ensure I understand the audience that text is intended for. The same principles of clarity and brevity apply to most projects, but many decisions about tone and appropriate language use require a thorough knowledge of the author’s audience.
I have enjoyed working on a diverse range of copy editing projects, from independent film scripts, to funding bids for charities, to full website content overhauls.
Whilst I have strong opinions on the written word and effective communication, I find my work benefits hugely from the new perspective that copy editing projects bring, helping me to learn about new audiences, new industries, and the unique requirements of particular businesses and organisations.