Comic books have always been my first love. Even as an adult, some of the greatest joys I have every year occur when I rummage through dusty “long boxes” in comic book shops, used bookstores and flea markets, patiently hunting for great stories that blend action, adventure and intrigue.
In an odd way, one may say that my skills are akin to those of a superhero. But let me take that analogy one step further and liken me to Superman — the world’s first superhero (created here in Ohio in 1938, by the way).
So how am I, a lowly B2B agency copy editor, like Krypton’s last son? Let me state the ways.
- Superman dons a red cape. I have a red pen.
- He rights the world’s wrongs. I make sure wrong words become right in writing.
- He faces the constant threat of intergalactic villainy. I deal with the constant threat of missing errors in copy — errors that become glaring upon being sent before a printer’s looming deadline.
Do I have a hero complex? You bet I do. Without it, I couldn’t perform my job as spectacularly as I do on a daily basis. Over the course of my career — four years as a news editor, two years as a proofreader at a composition company (they produced textbooks), two years as a proofreader at an ad agency, and nearly nine years as a copy editor at a certain B2B marketing agency in Dayton — I’ve corrected a copious amount of erroneous writing.
Extra spaces, misspelled words, repetitive phrasing, inconsistent capitalization and improper branding are just some of the mistakes I commonly face.
Interested in learning more? Great Scott! No need to reveal where your hidden lair is. Let me just tell you. Here are some cases which I frequently see.
Your copy editor’s professional Kryptonite
Writing errors can affect your return on investment (ROI) due to their effect on people’s perceptions of your capabilities.
Ampersands look nice, but I’m perpetually perplexed about why [or by why] people insist on using them. Do they feel that “and” is too long to write? Will the two characters saved by not writing out “and” make a tremendous difference in the eventual impact of the piece? Have I devoted more time and attention than anyone else to ampersands today? Can we move on?
Since AP Style was founded, it has changed the way business terms are used within copy (“e-mail” is now “email”; “Internet” is now “internet”). Note: I have no idea why “no man’s land” has an Associated Press Stylebook entry, but now you know, and knowing is half the battle (readers of a certain age may mentally respond with the catchphrase of a certain daring, highly trained, special mission force).
We divided the candy equally between the two of us, but when her sister wanted some as well, we couldn’t distribute it equally among the three of us.
Colons aren’t just for an invasive examination doctors need to give people when they turn 50. In fact, they’re great for when you’re about to name something important: this is a perfect example.
As anyone who has ever read “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss knows, commas really do make a difference. They help clarify long sentences, introductions, phrases, quotes and lists. Commas help you draw critical distinctions: “Let’s eat, Grandma” means one thing. “Let’s eat Grandma” means something else, entirely.
I complimented my wife on how her earrings complemented her eye color.
You most likely have seen em dashes, which are long dashes — like this, as long as the length of the letter “m” in copy — which create dramatic pauses for readers to understand a point that a writer wishes to emphasize.
Likewise, you may have seen en dashes hundreds of times over your career, but never knew about it. They are traditionally the length of the letter “n” within a piece and denote a range of numbers. For example: 1925–1950.
This demonstrates a concept, i.e., a thought or a method, of showing a difference, e.g., between ale and lager.
It’s going to rain today, but my umbrella has a hole in its liner.
Legal branding is important, but there’s no need to express EVERY SINGLE TIME within a piece if a product or offering has a registered trademark. Write “Your Brand Name®” the first time and “Your Brand Name” after that. Tell the lawyers I said it’s OK.
Unless you’re giving birth to God’s progeny, you probably will never use the word “manger” within your correspondence (but “manager” may be used every once in a blue moon).
Remember: your organization probably has a director of public relations (the “l” is very important, unless your HR department is very lax).
Subjects need verbs, but one subject only needs one verb. They need to agree, hence the phrase “subject-verb agreement”. Similarly, sentences need to be complete. While incomplete sentences are fine for greeting cards, they have no place in B2B communications.
I planned a trip to the cabin with a few friends. They’re going to meet me there. Their ideas may differ from mine about possible activities, but we’ll make it work.
Never fear, the copy editor is here
Regardless of whether you work at the Daily Planet or just work daily on this planet, if you should walk by your organization’s mild-mannered copy editor, know full well that he or she is silently doing battle with the B2B communication equivalent of Lex Luthor, Doomsday, General Zod, Darkseid and Brainiac.
But please don’t ask them to spell “Mister Mxyzptlk.”