Many years ago, when I was a graduate student working toward a PhD in English, I experienced a rude awakening in my very first semester, when the professor awarded me a C+ on a term paper I wrote on Matthew Arnold.
There were a lot of “firsts” for me that semester: it was the first time I was a student at an American university, having just arrived in the United States from India a few weeks earlier.
It was the first time I was writing a paper using a computer — one of the old ones with monochrome monitors and dot-matrix printers in the humanities building’s writing center.
And it was the first time an English professor had given me a grade lower than an A-.
The reason for the grade, apparently, was my failure to use commas correctly. The professor disapprovingly alleged that the paper was full of comma splices, that it hadn’t been formatted properly, the line spacing was all wrong, and so on.
Looking back on this encounter 30 years later, I now see that it was a formative moment in my career as a copy editor. At the time, I had to eat humble pie and fix my mistakes and resubmit my paper. And on the next paper for that class, I got an A, which, if nothing else, proves that I was capable of learning from my mistakes. I was mortified by that C+, but it taught me something important about writing and the writer’s ego: no matter how good you are as a writer (or how good you think you are), there’s a good chance you are going to overlook some critical details as you fuss over the act of composition.
It’s always a good idea to let a second pair of eyes look over your work and focus on the critical details while you concentrate on bringing your creation to life.
If copy editors didn’t exist, they would have to be invented.