What Is Copyediting?

Do you want to make sure you’re saying what you mean and meaning what you say? Copy editors do more than correct grammar and spelling errors. I’m here to be your second pair of eyes and, maybe, your last bit of polish before you publish your work. What is copyediting? My first answer might surprise you: It’s fun. Fun, fun, fun. Were you thinking it was work? Well, okay, it’s that, too. According to www.dictionary.com, it’s editing (e.g., a manuscript or document) for publication, especially for punctuation, spelling, grammatical structure, style, etc. What’s in that “etc.”?

What Copyediting Is Not: Five Common Misconceptions

Copywriting: Here’s one definition of copywriting: writing copy, especially for advertisements or publicity releases. The basic difference is that a copywriter pens original text, and a copy editor edits already-written text.

Ghostwriting: Ghostwriters write for someone else who is named as or presumed to be the author.

Publishing: A basic definition of publishing is issuing printed or otherwise reproduced material for sale or distribution to the public.

Developmental editing: A basic definition of this type of editing is helping develop a written work pretty much from the get-go. Sometimes this involves analysis of the market, of competing works, and anything else needed to develop the work, including research and writing.

Useless: When you write, do you want your message or story to come across clearly? Of course you do! To that end, I suggest you get at least one other person to look at your work. A copy editor can mark unclear passages to help you clarify what you mean so your message has a better chance of coming across to your readers. Also, an editor’s comments may let you know that your sentence made sense, but in a way you didn’t intend.

Some copy editors may also be copywriters, ghostwriters, publishers, or developmental editors.

Four Cs and Copyediting: What Is the Underlying Thread?

The underlying thread is to get the author’s message across clearly and in their voice. A copy editor can use these four Cs to help the writer do just that.

Checking: If there’s the slightest doubt about something in a document, a copy editor should check it. They shouldn’t guess, and shouldn’t assume something is correct just because an established writer wrote it, or because they’ve seen it in print from a well-known publisher. That sounds simple, but it can take training to learn to listen to that little uncertainty whispering to you. One of my favorite resources is The Chicago Manual of Style.

Clarity: A copy editor can point out phrases that are unclear, or that can be interpreted more than one way. Even if the author’s style leans toward murky, and the author wants that style maintained, the editor can point out exceptionally unclear passages.

Consistency: Isn’t it a surprise when you’re 200 pages into a novel, and Leila is suddenly called Zelda? Could this happen in the book you’re writing? You’ve been building your novel scene by scene, and not necessarily in order, and in separate files. Very early on, she was Zelda, but not for long. And you’ve forgotten all about that first name. Your copy editor, reading your work as a whole piece, can catch inconsistencies like this.

Caring for the author’s voice: A good copy editor remembers that this is your writing, not theirs. Their corrections and suggestions should fit with your style of writing.

What Is Copyediting? My Simple Guideline

There’s not just one answer to the question “what is copyediting?” You can find quite a variety of task lists for copy editors—I like this detailed description. I have my own list on the Home page; my simple guideline is this: I ask you what amount and types of editing you want—that way, I get an idea of what’s important to you, or what concerns you about your writing. If your list leaves out items I think are important, I’ll ask if you want those added. Then I stick to your specifications. However, if I find something glaringly “off” that’s outside your editing guidelines, I’ll ask if you want to know about that sort of thing.