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        What Does a Copy Editor Do? Quick Guide to Copy Editing

        • calenderNov 17, 2022
        • calender 5 min read

        What is copy editing? Depending on the person you ask, or even the country you reside in, you’re likely to receive different answers, sometimes even conflicting ones!

        In this article, we’ll sort through the confusion to find a coherent copy editing definition. We’ll take a roundup of the tasks undertaken by a copy editor, and see how they differ in different industries and niche areas.

        What is copy editing?

        Copy editing, also called copyediting, is the process of reviewing written copy for mechanical correctness to ensure consistency and improve readability. To some, this may seem a very basic definition of copy editing, but at its core, this is precisely the service undertaken by a copy editor.

        While copyediting is largely mechanical in nature, it may incorporate some additional checks depending on the document being edited. We may divide the copy editing process into two parts: substantive editing and mechanical editing.

        Substantive editing

        A substantive edit under copy editing is a macro-review of the entire document for refined readability, clarity, and consistency. In this check, the copy editor goes through different sections and subsections of your document, considering it as a whole.

        So, a copy editor undertaking this task will go through the structure and organization of your content to ensure clear communication between you and your reader. 

        This is different from developmental editing, where an editor works with you to improve the intrinsic quality of your content. Developmental editing ensures that your content is of the highest possible value to your reader, while substantive editing ensures that it is easy to read and understand.

        Mechanical editing

        Mechanical editing is what people popularly imagine editing to be: marking up mistakes in grammar, incorrect spelling and punctuation, awkward phrasing, and run-on sentences. It gives you an error-free document that only requires a proofread before it can be published or submitted.

        So how is copy editing different from proofreading? Both copy editing and proofreading check for mechanical errors in language, but copy editing is far more extensive than proofreading.

        Mechanical editing under copyediting goes beyond simple language correction. It ensures that the document follows a stipulated tone and has stylistic consistency. It also improves the readability of your text by ensuring proper flow in your sentences and paragraphs.

        In this way, copy editing is responsible for ensuring that your document reads as a coherent whole.

        Here’s a list of things copyediting checks for in a document:

        • Factual correctness
        • Structure and organization
        • Proper formatting
        • Mechanical correctness
        • Word choice and usage
        • Internal consistency
        • Tone, style, and taste
        • Clarity and flow in the writing
        • Visual elements (graphs, tables, figures)

        While we’ve given you a tentative copyediting definition, not all copy editors undertake the same level of editing. This is because different documents require different kinds of reviews.

        What does a copy editor do?

        The scope of copyediting differs with the vocation you’re in. We can isolate at least four distinct varieties of copy editing based on the field in which a copy editor works.

        1. Copy editor for newspapers

        Copy-editing for journalistic documents such as newspapers or magazines, called sub-editing in the UK, entails a broader range of work. A copy editor for newspapers needs to understand not only the mechanics of language but also news design and pagination.

        While reviewing such copy, the editor performs the following tasks:

          • Perform a substantive check to ensure that the content is up to the mark
          • Check for any obvious language mistakes, factual errors, and tonal problems
          • Ensure that copy follows the tone and style stipulated by the publication
          • Visualize copy in a certain section of the newspaper
          • Write an appropriate headline

        2. Copy editor for web content

        The word “copy” in terms of online publication refers to a block of text that appears on web pages. Copy may be long or short, so the scope of copy editing here changes with the type of copy they’re working on.

        Website copyediting requires an understanding of the product or service you’re trying to sell. So, a copy editor here should have some experience with copywriting and marketing.

        Copy editing for online platforms such as blogs constitutes more or less the mechanical edit:

        • Style and tone of the writing
        • General fitness of copy (grammatical and factual)

        3. Academic copy editor

        Academic copy editing is directed toward removing language and formatting errors from an academic document such as an essay, research paper, or dissertation. Here, the copy editor is mostly focused on ensuring that the author’s ideas are communicated without confusion or ambiguities.

        An academic copy editor undertakes the following responsibilities:

        • Ensuring that the document is well-formatted according to the prescribed guidelines
        • Performing a basic fact-check (if the editor is a subject matter expert)
        • Checking the citations and references for correctness and formatting
        • Removing mechanical errors from the document
        • Highlighting ambiguities and making suggestions for improved clarity

        4. Copy editor for book publishing

        Under book publishing, copyediting is one of five editing steps. It comes after developmental editing (or optionally, line editing) and before proofreading. While working with writers, a copy editor has to resolve language errors in the book while preserving its unique writing style.

        A book copy editor performs the following checks:

        • Structure and organization throughout the book, mostly concerning readability
        • Mechanical errors in writing
        • Consistency throughout the manuscript (stylistic as well as detail-oriented)
        • Fact-checking, especially in the case of nonfiction book

        Often, a copy editor for books also handles line editing. If you’d like to read more about how different steps unfold under book editing, visit this page.

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        Prasanna Linkedin

        Prasanna is on a little break from academia and spends his time compiling fiction writing tips. He enjoys poetry, mythology, and drawing lotuses on any surface he can find.

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