What To Expect From Copy Editing

Copy Editing

Copy editing is the process of revising and correcting your written material to make it the best it can be.

Copy can be about any topic and come in any form, from manuscripts to essays to material for a website. Regardless of the topic of a piece of text, a good copy editor has the expertise to find and correct errors in spelling, grammar, continuity, flow, and punctuation.

In order to understand exactly what needs to be done to improve your writing, a copy editor will ask the following questions:

1) Who is the intended audience?
The copy editor will ensure that the work is suitable for the intended readers of the text. By knowing who will read the piece, the copy editor can confirm that the writing is easy to understand.

2) What is the purpose or intended effect of the work?
Understanding the purpose of the work will enable the copy editor to ensure that the intended meaning comes across clearly and concisely.

3) Is the length appropriate for the audience and media?
The copy editor will make sure that the length of the entire work, as well as that of each paragraph and sentence, is appropriate for the intended audience. If part of the text seems too long, the copy editor will either cut or propose ways to shorten certain sections. Conversely, if a section needs further explanation, the copy editor will make suggestions on ways to expand it.

4) Will additional material be added later?
It is important for the copy editor to know if text or additional information is to be added to the work; otherwise, he or she may assume you’ve omitted relevant details or haven’t covered everything you intended to.

5) What have you budgeted for copy editing?
If you come to the copy editing stage only to realize you haven’t budgeted enough to have your entire book edited, both you and the copy editor will be at a loss.

6) Are there any additional details?
In some cases, the copy editor will ensure that the facts are correct and that the published work will not lead to any legal trouble for you, the author. The copy editor will also want to know whether objects, like pictures, diagrams, or tables, will be inserted in the text (and if so, whether they will need to be edited as well). If there are any other details about your work that will help the copy editor do his or her job better, it would benefit you to let him or her know.

While copy editors ensure a piece of text is accurate in terms of spelling, grammar, style, and punctuation, is audience-appropriate, and conveys the intended meaning, there are some things copy editors do not do. These include rewriting, paraphrasing, ghost writing, and any research beyond fact-checking.

To ensure copy editing meets your standards, the editor will ask him- or herself the following questions while editing your work:

1) Is the main idea conveyed concisely?
Here, the editor is looking to see that the text is not convoluted or full of jargon, and that short words and phrases are used instead of long ones, when possible. You don’t want to exhaust the reader by making him or her read a page-long paragraph for one tidbit of information.

2) Are any words, sentences, or sections of the writing extraneous?
This is similar to the point above. If something is irrelevant or unnecessary, the copy editor will do away with it, allowing only the most read-worthy material to shine.

3) Does your introduction inspire people to continue reading?
An introduction is what pulls the reader in, so it had better be interesting, informative, and intriguing enough to make your audience want more.

4) Is the progression of the text well organized?
You won’t be doing anyone a favor by presenting a disorganized text. Make it easy on your readers (and the editor) by sticking to an outline and smoothly transitioning from one point to the next. Of course, this will be provided as part of the copy editing service, but you want to provide your editor with a strong first draft.

5) Are the tone and style consistent throughout?
Does the work read as if it were written by five different authors? Maintaining consistency in terms of writing style and voice is one of a copy editor’s concerns.

6) Is the final thought strong?
Whether you want to teach your readers something or leave them with a thought-provoking idea, the copy editor will help ensure that your conclusion is as strong as your introduction (which is what you promised the reader in the first place).

Back in your court

Before you move on from the copy editing stage, you must approve all the edits. It’s up to you to make sure all your facts are still accurate, that no new errors slipped in during the editing process, and that any changes have not altered your intended meaning. The copy editing process can take several drafts, so it’s important to be prompt and stick to your deadlines (and your budget). When all is said and done, your material should be noticeably improved.

Image via ShutterStock.com.


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  1. As an editor and copyeditor as well as a writer, I think what this is describing is closer to line and substantive editing than copyediting. True, the lines between the various levels of editing are chronically fuzzy, but copyeditors generally deal with spelling, punctuation, usage, and style, not with suitability for a specific audience. Under no circumstances can we “ensure” that nothing in a ms. will lead to legal trouble. No one, not even a lawyer, can guarantee that. Btw, the markup in the graphic at the top of the page indicates that “breakfast,” and “sitting” should be closed up: “breakfast,sitting.” Is that really what you want?


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