My Copy Edit and Your Copy Edit Were Hanging Out Clothes…

…/My copy edit struck your copy edit right in the nose/What was the final word count?

Remember this skipping rhyme from childhood (with different words, of course)?

I’ve been amusing myself and learning at the same time by completing short copy edits and then comparing my work to that of another copy editor. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) provides some before and after examples of edited writing.

There’s no one correct way to perform an edit, but one edit can definitely be better than another. I joked above about final word count because the most significant difference between my edits and the ones posted on SfEP is length. My tendency is to cut the fat, and that’s easy to do when you’re editing for practice and don’t have to present the edit to the writer.

For example, here’s a piece of unedited text:

Dear Customer

Happy New Year, as another year starts myself and Crown Dairy are always looking at ways we can improve the service we provide you.Due to the area I serve, the amount of customers I have and the large congestion of traffic, parking and vehicle Restrictions I have been having difficulties in calling back on customers in order to collect payment, in the interest of personal safety (i.e. I am carrying less cash) and providing an efficient early delivery of your milk and goods to your doorstep, I would like to suggest our direct debit payment service, you just fill in the form provided, return it to me and I will bill you on the last week of every month with payment to follow. Switching to Direct debit is not compulsory however this would be greatly appreciated in allowing me to be safer at work and providing the efficient service of your doorstep deliveries and that of our new online service milk plus, if you are already a direct debit or milk plus customer please ignore this letter.

Kind Regards

Your Milkman

Here’s my edit:

Dear Customer,

Happy New Year!

To better serve you this year, Crown Dairy suggests signing up for direct debit payment. Simply fill in the form provided, return it to me, and I will bill you on the last week of every month, with payment automatically debited from your account. Switching to direct debit provides you with more efficient doorstep delivery because I avoid the delays of traffic, parking, and payment collection.

For full online service, please visit our website and sign up for Milk Plus.

I look forward to serving you in the new year.

Kind Regards,

Your Milkman

And here’s the edit from SfEP:

Dear Customer

Happy New Year! The start of a new year is a good time to see how Crown Dairy and I can improve the service I provide you.

Because of the heavy traffic and parking restrictions in your area, it can be difficult for me to call back and collect payment for the goods I deliver. For my own safety, I carry little cash, so I can’t always provide you with the right change when you don’t have the exact money.

It would be a great help if you would be willing to use our direct debit payment service. Just fill in the form with this letter and return it to me. I will give you a monthly bill for your records, and payment will be taken automatically from your bank account.

Of course, you do not have to use this way to pay. However, it would allow me to work more safely and more efficiently in delivering goods to your door, including those ordered via our online “Milk plus” service.

If you already pay by direct debit, please ignore this letter.

Kind regards

Your Milkman

My instinct was to cut the wordiness and make the point about automatic withdrawals. But I like the gentle and persuasive tone of the SfEP edit. This edit keeps the personal tone of the original intact as well as the full explanations — explanations I deemed too detailed and unnecessarily focused on the milkman’s needs. But if the customer base is reluctant to use direct debit, the explanations are needed.

Of course, when I’m editing with a real live writer, I tend to take a more conservative approach, but it’s helpful to be aware of our natural inclinations. And for me, that means remembering that shorter isn’t always better.

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