The most underrated villain of copy editing

by | May 25, 2019 | Miscellaneous

Being a copy editor for almost ten years, I have always wondered which type of missed error is the most critical among all error categories. Subject–verb disagreement? Inappropriate article usage? Incorrect punctuation? Even though these are all quite basic areas a copy editor is expected to take care of, they may not always pose a threat to the reader’s understanding: many a time, the reader will easily comprehend the author’s intention even if these errors are left uncorrected. There is another type of error that may go unnoticed even under otherwise careful eyes, but can be very embarrassing when noticed, both to the author and, obviously, to the one who edited the manuscript.

Typos – formally, typographical errors – as the name suggests, are errors that creep in while typing the content, in particular, ones that do not flag up as spelling errors. I hope, by this time, some common typos would have come up in your mind: from–form, than–then, that–than. As I said earlier, typos can easily evade the eyes of the reader and, in the worst case scenario, the copy editor. According to a “study” conducted in the Untied States of America, our mind loves to handle information in patterns. (Kudos to you for identifying the typo in the previous sentence!) You may have come across a text message in which every word has some letters whose places are swapped; you can still read the sentence perfectly. This is how patterns work.

Our subconscious mind makes us believe that the word following different would always be from, rather than form. This may deceive us in such a way that even if the wrong word is used, we may not notice it. Typo is the most annoying category of errors during my initial days as an editor. There are no hard and fast rules for identifying typos. Simply put, finding out typos depends upon how cleverly we manoeuvre through the words (letters, more precisely). I made a habit, a rather painstaking one: in the manuscript, if I find a word that has the potential to be misspelt as a typo, I will look out for the typo-to-be throughout the manuscript.

If I come across the word learning, I will check whether there is leaning; if I come across dependent, I will check for dependant; if I come across angle, I will check for angel. Very soon, the list became endless, and I started spending most of my time looking for typos, which are generally not very frequent compared to other error categories. Eventually, I realised I was losing my grip on areas other than typos. Then I received expert advice that editing should be done from a holistic perspective. Of course, typos are more embarrassing, but a good editor should read through the letters. Even now, when I see novice editors missing typos, I give just two pieces of advice to them: to read through the letters and not to get deceived by patterns. This may be vague. You can argue that this advice is not fulfilling. But this is the practice I still follow to achieve typo-free editing. Let me list out a few ways through which typos may sneak into a manuscript:

Transposed lettersfrom/form
Missed lettersthrough/trough
Unwanted lettersthese/theses
Wrong lettersthan/then

For a copy editor, missing a typo is a serious offence since even a layman can easily find it out. But there is a more severe crime: introducing a typo. I have seen cases where the editor decided to change disc to disk, but ended up in introducing a typo, which is …. Well, good luck with your imagination!

M. Saravanakumar is an editor in a reputed e-publishing company since 2009. He holds a masters degree in bioinformatics and primarily works on science manuscripts. Apart from doing hands-on language editing, he loves to train and mentor people and help develop their editing skills. Saravanakumar is an avid reader.

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  1. Justin

    Good one!

  2. Varunkumar S

    Last paragraph contains no typo… 👍👍😁😉

  3. Suraj M

    Indeed, the typo is the most embarrassing of errors, and, worse, it doesn’t differentiate between the beginning and experienced copy editor 😊.

  4. Suraj M

    Indeed, the typo is the most embarrassing of errors to make, and whats more it does not differentiate between the beginning and the experienced copy editor 😊

  5. Anto

    Congratulations Saravana. Thanks for decoding “the most underrated villain.” Good start.

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