Prospective customers, clients, and patrons judge your business or organization by the impression you make in print and web-based materials. It may not be a conscious thing, but they do. Whether you’re part of an information-heavy business with lots of written text or you make your living by the sweat of your brow—people with a good grasp of English will be more impressed with the public image you present if your text is carefully polished, easy to read, and error free. This is true for the yard care specialist or auto shop owner who creates simple advertising flyers, and it is true for the proprietor or professional who produces multiple pages of text, whether for a website or in hard copy.
If you are trying to build your client base or nurture existing clients, you have something important to say. A good copyeditor can help you say it more effectively. So what does a copyeditor do? In short, he or she takes text (i.e., copy) that someone else has written and ensures that it is clear, coherent, consistent, and correct, all for the purpose of effective communication. But not everyone is convinced they need this service.
A common argument against seeking copyediting services help is that a friend or somebody in the office with a good grasp of English can perform the task well enough. “I’ll just ask the office manager to look over the website copy—she’s pretty good with language and words.” Well, far be it from me to say she isn’t. In fact, my mother, who had only a high school education, was very good with grammar, vocabulary, and spelling; I owe her a great deal of credit (or blame) for who I am today. She could identify the grammatical errors of TV newscasters and correct misspellings in the newspaper. But she was not a trained copyeditor. No offense, Mom, if you’re reading this from heaven. And this goes for highly educated folk, too. I have copyedited and proofread texts written by PhDs because they realized their limitations—or they simply understood that good writers aren’t necessarily good at catching their own writing miscues. In fact, even copyeditors need copyeditors when they venture into the world of writing, which I occasionally do.
I’ve heard business people object that they’re not too concerned about polished, “professional” content because they want to present themselves as “down to earth.” Listen, I’m not talking about someone coming along and changing your written “voice” so that it sounds like a professor wrote it—formal, stuffy, and pretentious (apologies to my professor friends). No one would want to read it. I’m talking about helping you put your best foot forward in print and online. Who doesn’t care about that?
Another objection is that hiring a copyeditor will be too expensive. It’s true that like anything else you get what you pay for, and good copyeditors charge more than minimum wage. But the flip side is to ask yourself if you can afford to turn off prospective customers or frustrate existing clients with less-than-perfect or unclear written communications. Some experts believe these turn-offs and frustrations can actually cost you money. (Yes, that’s an intentional understatement.)
Here’s a case in point. A half-page ad in our local newspaper celebrated a restaurant’s fifteenth anniversary, “with its owners forever great-full (sic) to the residents of our Valley.” The ad described their “THREE BASIC AND FUNDAMENTAL PHILOSOPHY” (sic): quality [which apparently did not include its print advertisements], service, and atmosphere, the latter described as “unpretending to say the least!” (An unpretending atmosphere? I’m still working on that one.) The entire ad consisted of awkwardly worded copy that presented the business in a bad light.
Now, I doubt that many who read that over-sized ad consciously thought, “These people don’t know how to write clear, correct advertising copy—they must serve bad hamburgers.” But by analogy, let’s say that I’m in the market for a new television and I pay a visit to a big-box electronics store that has dirty front windows, litter strewn about the sidewalk, and a generally disheveled appearance. It may not mean their televisions are no good or that I can’t get a great deal there, but its underlying message of carelessness and poor management is a turn-off that will make it hard for me to want to step inside. Similarly, the text and graphics a business produces for public consumption are a bit like a storefront. What underlying message does your “storefront” convey? Can a good copyeditor help?
A professional copyeditor will do more than catch typos and correct misspellings. He or she will ensure that the entire copy is easily readable, makes sense, flows well, and makes the important points of your message clear. A good copyeditor is an ally who helps you put your best foot forward.
© 2016 by Dean Christensen.