Copy editing for different audiences (tone policing)

Element Descriptor

Appearances do matter when it comes to text-based content. Sloppy and mistake-strewn work creates the impression of a sloppy and disorganised group, causing readers who would otherwise engage to turn off. More importantly still, groups reporting on complex problems and policies need convey their points clearly to a wide range of audiences, including those less familiar with the detail or approaching the matter from a different perspective to their own. Interventions into sensitive or high-risk areas need to keep a keen eye on tone.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Happy checking near-final versions of text for typographical errors – and picks these up in almost all instances. Does not make major changes to the text, and the role is more proofreading than copy-editing proper.Corrects grammar and spelling, as well typographical errors in texts, including those for a wider external audience or material that may be widely shared. With reference to a style guide (or equivalent note from authors), ensures that the text is in line with the desired tone. Makes basic changes to improve the overall readability. More of a copy-editor than a proofreader, they may look out for potential legal problems.Undertakes substantial reviews of content, ensuring clarity, coherence and logical flow for a wide range of texts. With little explanation from the primary author, they will fine-tune the structure, tone and voice. Picks up almost all SPAG and typographical errors but also checks facts.Turns in such an immaculate and improved document that you wonder why you did not ask them to just write the whole damn thing in the first place. Makes the right call on tone-sensitive issues and offers broader advice that will assist with future similar scenarios.

Element Overview Essay

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So the causes of copy editing being done badly or that people don’t have the skills or don’t want to acknowledge that different organisations and different kinds of blog posts call for different tone, different vocabulary, different rhythms of language. 

So this is a question of an information deficit you need to get this across to people. 

The consequences of poor copy editing. And here I’m using copy editing to go beyond grammar, punctuation, structure of sentences, length of sentences, subordinate clauses, etc. The text will just feel “off“ to the reader. It’s likely to be too tabloid in a formal setting or too formal in a tabloid setting. And you’ll just miss an opportunity perhaps, to make a connection to make an impression. 

So, the way to fix it is obviously, find someone who is a practitioner expert or even ninja copy editor and do a couple of co-editing things with them. So that you can at least start to fly solo and then gradually increase the length and complexity of copy editing that you are doing. 

See also proofreading

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Assessment Resources