Someone started a discussion on LinkedIn about whether or not a person can be taught to have an eye for detail. I think the answer is no. You either have this talent or not. But someone with the eye for detail can be taught what to look for – I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought.

A little about me: I got trained on the job in my 20s when I was a legal secretary. 100% accuracy was expected of us – and the first lawyer I worked for had to tell me a lot of the particulars (I was stunned to find out that punctuation was supposed to be inside quotation marks and that there was no “e” in judgment). The first style guide I ever used was The Blue Book of Style – before I ever heard of Chicago or any of the other style guides we use today.

In 2010, I was awarded the University of California, San Diego Certificate in Copyediting. I sailed through the program because I had learned almost everything they taught in 20 years of working for lawyers. By then, I was in the QA department of a web development company.  And it blew my mind that my ONLY job was copyediting. My boss sent me to school so I could wrap my mind around copyediting being a job in and of itself.

My list of what copyeditors do. First – spellcheck with grammer and style turned on. Then look for :

  • parallelism
  • transitions
  • unifying themes
  • incomplete thoughts
  • subject/verb agreement
  • subject/pronoun agreement
  • superfluous adjectives
  • redundancy
  • neutral gender
  • voice

Teach new copyeditors concepts about words – such as the absurdity of saying something is “very unique” – and if they have it in them, they will be thrilled. I quickly realized that almost every use of the word “very” detracted from the professionalism of our courseware. The one use I retained was to point out when something was “very redundant.” Of course, the joke was lost on those who didn’t have the eye.

Watch for the correct article before acronyms. Copyeditors need to know how acronyms are pronounced – watch for consistent formatting of headings. If one has a period, they all need to have them.

Check the style guide for the rules. Vague references to time, which can go unnoticed so easily, can become a problem and detract from the professionalism of an article. If the writer wrote “Last October,” the copyeditor may want to change that to October 2012. Remember, the article might be on the Internet for a long time. Keep it relevant.

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