Due to a series of fortunate events at my day job, I recently had the opportunity to partake in some professional development through an online course in copy editing. I ended up taking the Grammar, Mechanics, and Usage for Editors course at UC Berkeley Extension, the first course in the Professional Sequence in Editing, which consists of four courses that can be taken in a period of three years in order to receive the Professional Sequence in Editing certificate. If you’re interested in this course, please allow me to tell you a little bit about my experience.
This 12-week course, which has a set schedule because there is an instructor, is 100% online and can be taken from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a computer. Of course, you also need a browser, a word processing program (preferably Microsoft Word, but LibreOffice Writer worked for me too), and a PDF reader (preferably Acrobat Reader).
I would say that 90% of the course is self-guided. There were reading materials provided online for each module; however, the bulk of what we studied were chapters from A Writer’s Reference, Ninth Edition by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, Fourth Edition by Patricia T. O’Conner, and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition.
Other than the reading materials, there was one video provided at the very beginning of the course, but it was limited. There were weekly chats given by the instructor, but they were in chatroom form rather than in a video conference form, which limited how much could be covered in the span of an hour.
I think that if you’re an auditory learner, this course may not be right for you, although if you do need accessibility, UC Berkeley Extension does provide options for students with disabilities and special needs. Since I didn’t use UC Berkeley Extension Disabled Student Services (EXDSS), however, I can’t speak on the full extent of these resources.
The course’s main interactive learning tool was the discussion boards, an online place where students could ask questions about the readings, practices, assignments, quizzes, and the final. The discussion boards were very helpful, especially when I didn’t know the answer to a question even after researching it for myself. Still, I would have preferred a little bit more discussion on the discussion boards rather than simply a question and answer type of space.
In the end, the gem of the course, at least for me, were the practice assignments, graded assignments, quizzes, and the final. In copy editing, practice makes perfect, and the more I studied and practiced the grammar and mechanics of a certain sentence, the more I retained that knowledge. For instance, I now feel much more comfortable identifying dangling modifiers than I did at the beginning of the course.
In addition to dangling modifiers, other topics covered in the course included:
- The parts of a sentence (subjects and verbs)
- Words, phrases, and clauses
- Sentence classifications (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex)
- Subject and predicate
- Sentence fragments and run-ons
- Subject-verb agreement
- Noun, adjective, and adverb phrases and clauses
- Parallelism in sentences
- Dangling and misplaced modifiers
- Pronoun errors
- Who versus whom
- Sexism and pronouns
- Passive voice and active voice
- Commas, semicolons, colons, and periods
Overall, if you’re interested in becoming a copy editor or you’re currently working as a copy editor, I’d recommend this course and the sequence as a way to brush up on your skills; however, I’d especially recommend this course if your employer is able to pay for it. This is, of course, not something everyone can do, especially since most copy editors are freelance.
That being said, a lot of what we learned can be learned on your own. Given that there were no video or audio lectures, you can likely learn all you need to know from reading the textbooks, especially The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz. The one thing these textbooks lack, however, are practice assignments and tests, but with a little research, you may be able to find these online, either for free or for much less than the cost of the course ($895).