Copyediting Copywriting

I can’t decide which I love more: copywriting or copyediting

Invite me to edit your copy and you’re not just asking for clearer words. You’re really asking for help expressing yourself and a deep sense of relief.

Poke any copywriter long enough and they’ll eventually admit that pure copywriting projects are actually quite rare. I’m talking about the kind where the copywriter writes everything from scratch. Ones with deliciously expansive creative briefs

Reality is that most projects supersede or replace what’s already gone before. They’re an exercise in improving and refining what someone wrote in-house (or lifted from a competitor). These can be ideas, a very rough plan, or copy that already exists (albeit in someone’s head).

In effect, that is a copyediting job. Think a website, whitepaper or article in some state of undress, which a client needs improving – quickly.

In fact, you could probably argue that every copywriting project is actually a copyediting project in disguise – to varying degrees.

I’ll admit the distinction between copyediting and copywriting is a paper-thin one. But there are a couple of subtle differences that add up to a wholly more satisfying, and speedier outcome.

Copyediting’s major advantage has more-or-less instant results

Any edit (made by a professional copywriter, at least) is a significant improvement. Even just a cursory red-pen review can reveal dramatic uplifts to the readability of your copy.

And if we actually get our hands dirty with a document, in just one hour, a copywriter can upgrade copy to the point where its original author feels blown away, and actually feels guilty having their name still attached to it.

How does a copywriter do this?

By stepping back and focusing on what you’re actually trying to say.

I generally strip out the usual preamble where people feel obliged to explain the origins of their copy, and cut straight to the interesting bit where you make a point. Then I shuffle paragraphs around until the thread’s more consistent. I escalate momentum towards a conclusion – compelling the reader to read on.

These things needn’t take very long either.

I once edited a job advert at short-notice for a software company, in about 40 minutes. Afterwards my client couldn’t believe it was the same job. Candidate applications went through the roof and they were spoilt for choice.

It’d be nice to say this was all down to my magic copywriting powers, when really it was just a fresh pair of eyes, plus a bit of empathy for the reader, and some imagination.

My point here is that because of its rapid results, copyediting is an immensely rewarding experience for everyone involved.

But there’s more to copyediting than that.

Copyediting is actually more creative than you might think

When it’s a simple case of ‘take this copy and make it sound better’, as a copywriter I can put aside my usual process of analysis, research, write, feedback, re-draft – and just dive straight in. That means I’m free from preconception, or any constraints on what you can and can’t say.

The raw materials are already there, more or less, on the page ready to be polished to a shine. As copywriters, we’re free to embellish and enhance the points that are already made – tease out conclusions and extrapolations an author might take for granted, or simply forget to mention.

Copywriters take something implied by the author and make it explicit. We unpick the knots everyone ties themselves up in in sentences. And we take benefits to their logical conclusion: sunny day outcomes in terms the reader understands.

Best of all though …

With copyediting, the outcome isn’t just that someone else’s writing is more effective. Yes, I’m chuffed that they’re chuffed, but there’s something far more satisfying happening. And this brings me back to my favourite thing about copywriting:

That person (the original author) feels better expressed.

Given that it’s a fundamental human need to be understood, copyediting brings me exceptionally close, closer even than copywriting, to meeting that need.

If you’re a copywriter writing something from scratch, sure, helping someone feel expressed is a massive part of it, but you’re not literally taking their words and making them sing. You’re only ever improving your own words – their words by proxy, if you like.

But when you take what someone’s written, to get to the heart of what they really mean, then make that even clearer – that brings immense relief for them. And that’s a reward like no other.

By Chris Kenworthy | Coach

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