Do grammar pedants make the best copy editors?

I have not blogged for a while, as have been too busy with work – which is great, but I thought I would start 2014 with a cheeky blog to get me back in the swing of things.

To answer the question above, you might think the obvious answer was a great big resounding YES! I mean who better to check your work than someone who is an absolute stickler for grammar, right?!

I would have to partly disagree with you though. Why?

To help me explain, here is a fun little definition I found in the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com)

Grammatical Pedantry Syndrome

Grammatical (or grammar) pedantry syndrome is an illness or a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder where someone has a compulsive desire to correct any grammatical errors one has made and is obsessed with taking this peculiar, constant, and vexatious (from the target’s perspective) action.

“Me and mark ate cookies!”
“You mean, ‘Mark and I ate cookies!’”
“Stop it!”
“Sorry, I have Grammatical Pedantry Syndrome.”

In informal writing, slavish addiction to ‘correct’ forms of grammar can sometimes mean that the piece comes over as stiff, boring and inflexible. Inflexibility in this case can mean that the writer (or the editor who is checking over the work), is unwilling to move with the times and to follow – for example – the increasing trend to abbreviate etc. In formal writing of course, there should be a greater adherence to what is considered to be the best grammar.

I do proofreading and copy editing for a few copy writers and I check their marketing, copy and of course their blogs. More and more, I am coming across informal use of contractions, for example:

Don’t (rather than the more formal do not),

Isn’t (is not) and

Would’ve … well it should of course be would have (and not, as is so frequently written – although not by grammar pedants, clearly - would of)! That is just so wrong.

It would perhaps be hard for a grammar pedant to let contractions such as these go, and yet in many cases this informal way of writing is a deliberate choice and the ‘chatty style’ is seen as more likely to appeal to the target market.

If as a proofreader or copy editor, you deliberately set out to change things because they are not traditional or do not sit quite right with the way in which you were taught, you are going to quickly be out of work.

It is so important to not correct for correction’s sake and to resist the desire to bring out the metaphorical red pen. Sometimes, you have to let some things – particularly where there are no real hard and fast rules – go.

In my opinion, to be a good editor you have to bear this in mind, and more importantly, you must be consistent and honest with the writer.

No one wants an editor or proofreader who hasn’t (see what I am doing here!) a clue about the correct use of grammar, but grammar pedants probably do not make good copy editors, as they are not flexible and open-minded enough.

Until next time…

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7 thoughts on “Do grammar pedants make the best copy editors?

  1. Pingback: Do grammar pedants make the best copy editors? | copyproofblogs

  2. Nice one Julia. You’re so right about this. As a copywriter, I write a lot of copy for businesses who have a conversational style. Being a stickler would make the words sound stiff and too formal – not at all how we speak. I used lot so contractions in my work – and that’s exactly as it should be :-) And that’s the great thing when you find a proofreader who “gets” you. They soon get used to your style and are able to offer helpful advice that improves the grammatical quality of the words, whilst being flexible enough to hold back that “red pen” :-)

    • Thank you for your comment. I am glad you agree with my sentiments and I agree that it is important to build up a good relationship with a proofreader so that they work with you as opposed to fighting you on style issues :)

  3. Hi Julia, I agree with every word. As an author, when I’m (or I am) reading someone else’s work, I find that grammatical errors sometimes get in the way of the story, but slavish adherence to the pure mechanics of writing make for boring writing. It is always obvious to me when an author hasn’t (or has not) been copy-edited or copy-proofed. But having said that, the differences between say American and English grammar and spelling, should not come into the equation. Grammatical errors should be changed or pointed out, but contractions, especially in dialogue, help the story to flow. Well done, Julia.

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