Copy-Editing for the Web

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A presentation given at MagNet 2010 with Jaclyn Law

Text of Copy-Editing for the Web

  • 1. Quick Copy-Editing for the Web
    • Jaclyn Law and Kat Tancock

2. 2 Why copy edit? Its your last line of defenseagainst errors like these. 3. 3 Diana, Princess of 4. 4 Due to a typographical error, a previous version of this article said that the amount of losses fromMondays market collapse was $1,300 trillion.The correct amount is $1.3 trillion. Wall Street Journals 5. 4 Source: 6. 4 Source: 7. 7 From a student newspaper at Brandeis University: The original article provided the incorrect locationof New York Universitys new institution.It is in Abu Dhabi, not Abu Ghraib.Source: 8. 8 From a review of a cosmetic-dentistry clinic: Patients can leave up to eight shades whiterafter one sitting. 9. 10. Two key rules for editing your site

  • Be consistent
  • Be organized

11. Develop your skills

  • Know your own errors and double-check them
  • Take a class if you can
  • Try to give yourself at least a day to proofread
  • Slow down and really look

12. What is copy editing?

  • Editing copy for grammar, punctuation, spelling and usage to make it clean, clear, concise and consistent
  • Dealing with word repetition, redundancy, clichs, jargon, lack of logic, offensive or outdated language, etc.
  • Ensuring copy works with the layout

12 13. Why you need to copy edit

  • Errors confuse and annoy readers. They also reflect poorly on your publication and your brand.
  • Copy editing elevates your articles.
  • You cant rely on spell-checkers.

13 14. Copy editing tips

  • Allow yourself plenty of time and space.
  • Invest in good reference books.
  • Youll catch more errors on paper.
  • Some editors read twice first for meaning, second time to make changes.
  • Some editors read with a ruler.

15 15. Repurposing from print

  • If cutting, double-check attributions
  • Watch for "on page x," "in the chart above"
  • Check for info in captions, sidebars, etc.
  • Watch for line breaks, end marks, capitalization/drop caps, bullets
  • Remove/rework time references and seasonal references

16. How long should content stay up?

  • Edit for forever
  • Include a publication date
  • If necessary, program an offline date with your CMS
  • Butmake sure all URLs go somewhere (even if it's a redirect)


  • Know when to back off. Sometimes, preserving personality and colour is more important than perfect grammar.
  • Have a reason for making changes. Dont change something just because thats howyouwould write it.
  • Dont worry nobody knows everything about grammar and punctuation. The key is knowing where to look up the answers.

17 18. Web editorial process

  • Check each other's work.
  • Get colleagues' help when you can.
  • Never take off your copy editor's hat.
  • Use spell-check (but don't stop there).
  • Watch for Canadian spelling.
  • Double-check everything you typed into the CMS.

19. Make use of the web

  • Link out to sources (e.g., Health Canada)
  • Check for dead links (
  • Google sources' names to double-check spelling (and link to them)

20. Dealing with errors

  • "Report typo"
  • Strikethroughs
  • Updates at end of article/post
  • Date your content and identify source
  • Don't make major changes without identifying them to readers
  • Follow up on comments

21. Example: 22. Example: 23. Example: "Updated to add:" 24. Example: Note strikethrough 25. Top 6 things that bug your readers

  • Lack of subject-verb agreement
  • Sentence fragments
  • Dangling modifiers
  • Comma splices
  • Faulty parallelism
  • Poorly constructed lists
  • Vague pronouns

26. 1. Lack of subject-verb agreement

  • Singular subjects take singular verbs; plural subjects take plural verbs.
  • Avoid choosing the wrong word as the sentence subject e.g., The designers collection of shoes were very stylish. (The subject is the collection.)
  • Treat compound subjects (e.g., Sugar and butter) as separate items (Sugar and butter are tasty.)
  • Some plural words are mistakenly treated as singular (data, media, phenomena).

25 27. Subject-verb agreement contd

  • Some terms get a singular verb even if they sound plural e.g., Two weeks is the typical incubation period.
  • Collective nouns (e.g., team, board, group) are single units, so they take singular verbs, except in situations like this one: The committee are debating the budget. (A single unit cant debate itself.)

26 28.

  • Two subjects joined by nor or or take a singular verb if both subjects are singular e.g., Neither Elaine nor Jerry remembers the date of Kramers birthday.
  • Two subjects joined by nor or or take a plural verb if the subject closest to the verb is plural, or if both subjects are plural e.g., At our charity events, neither the singer nor the back-up dancers receive payment.

Subject-verb agreement contd 27 29.

  • Some words always take a singular verb e.g., anybody, anyone, each, either, neither, every, everybody, everyone, nobody, somebody. (Refer toCanadian Press Stylebook .)

Subject-verb agreement contd 28 30. 2. Sentence fragments

  • If your sentence is missing a subject or a verb, its a fragment e.g., The neighbours poodle was barking again. Which she couldnt stand.
  • Its OK to use sentence fragments once in a while for effect, or for captions and blurbs where a full sentence isnt needed.

29 Write incomplete sentences occasionally. Like this. To make an idea easier to absorb. For a change of pace.-CP Stylebook 31. 3. Dangling modifiers

  • Amodifieris a descriptive word or phrase that limits or quantifies the meanings of other parts of a sentence.
  • Dangling modifiersare words or phrases joined to the wrong words in a sentence.
  • Dangling modifiers are a serious grammar crime!

30 32. Dangling modifiers contd

  • Strolling around Torontos trendy Yorkville neighbourhood, a pair of suede bootsstopped me in my tracks.
  • CORRECT:As I strolled around Torontos trendy Yorkville neighbourhood, a pair of suede boots stopped me in my tracks.

31 33.

  • Lush and green, Indiana Jones plunged into the rainforest.
  • CORRECT:Indiana Jones plunged into the lush, green rainforest.

Dangling modifiers contd 32 34.

  • Roasted to perfection, my husband doused the ribs with barbecue sauce.
  • My husband doused the ribs, roasted to perfection, with barbecue sauce.

Dangling modifiers contd 33 35. 4. Comma splices

  • First, a quick review
  • Anindependent clauseis a group of words that has a subject-verb combination and expresses a complete thought e.g., Buffy killed the vampire.
  • Acoordinating conjunctionis a word (e.g., and, but, or, nor) that joins two or more elements of equal rank, e.g., black or white, poor but happy, love and hate.

34 36. Comma splices contd

  • Acomma spliceis the use of a comma to join (splice) two independent clauses in a sentence, where the clauses are not connected by a coordinating conjunction.

35 37. Comma splices contd

  • She was my mentor, I learneda lot from her.
  • You can fix this by separating the clauses with a period or a semicolon, or by joining the clauses with a coordinating conjunction.

36 38.

  • WRONG:She was my mentor, I learned a lot from her.
  • She was my mentor. I learned a lot from her.
  • She was my mentor; I learned a lot from her.
  • She was my mentor, and I learned a lot from her.

Comma splices contd 37 39.

  • Its OK to use a comma splice
  • when the independent clauses are short, and especially if the subject is the same:I came, I saw, I conquered.
  • when short independent clauses express contrast: He wanted a house, she wanted a condo or Some like it hot, some like it cold.

Comma splices contd 38 40. 5. Faulty parallelism

  • Keep the structure of phrases and clauses in a series or sentence parallel.
  • Once a parallel structure has been started, readers expect it to continue; the sentence feels awkward if it doesnt.

39 41. Faulty parallelism contd

  • 6He put on the dress shirt, tie, the pants and shoes.
  • He put on the dress shirt, tie, pants and shoes.
  • He put on the dres