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What a copy editor does

Publishing a document? You need a copy editor

Anyone producing a piece of writing in anything but the most informal of settings should use a copy-editor. From large publishing companies producing hundreds of books per year for general or specialist markets, to academics preparing material for publication, to company brochures and leaflets, to websites, to writers intending to self-publish: all benefit from the services of someone with an expert eye, who can give a piece of text the final polish. Often, the author of a work is too close to see the errors and inconsistencies in a piece of text. Book and periodical publishers need experienced copy-editors who can edit, format and prepare text for typesetting. Academics working in their second language, writing articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals, need a native speaker to identify problems and errors before submitting articles to the review process. To find out more, see copy-editing.

Publishing a book? You need an editorial project manager

I can manage the whole process of publishing a book, from receipt of the manuscript to final files that will be used for printing: this includes scheduling, subcontracting as necessary the various tasks of copy-editing, proofreading and indexing to specialist freelances, and liaising with the various players in the publication process, including authors, typesetters, designers, artists and in-house staff. To find out more, see editorial project management.

So what's the difference between copy editing and proofreading?

A writer produces some writing (the manuscript), which then needs to be prepared for typesetting, during which it is fitted into the intended layout and design of the final product, producing proofs. These are pages that resemble what the final book, article or brochure will look like. A copy-editor works on the manuscript. A proofreader checks proofs. Simple as that. Each job is important, and each has a different purpose.

What will a copy editor do?

During copy-editing the focus is the content, correctness, consistency, organisation and structure of the text. A copy-editor will read the text to ensure that it contains no literal mistakes in terms of spelling, grammar and syntax. Often there will be a pre-arranged style, which refers to making decisions about how certain elements are handled (such as whether to put a comma before and in a list, or whether compound words have a hyphen or are run together). This may include using a certain dictionary for checking spelling, presenting things like numbers, book titles and section headings in a certain way, and perhaps even referring to an already published style guide.

Style is dictated by the way in which a client wants the material presented, but it also is very important to consider the reader, in terms of age, background and subject knowledge. Consistency is also very important, and the copy-editor will be checking that the style is applied in the same way throughout the text. Inconsistency can be distracting and confusing. The copy-editor will also make sure that there is a logical organisation and layout to the text, ensuring that concepts are introduced in a sensible way, that headings are logical and helpful to the reader.

Copy-editors also prepare material for the next stage: typesetting. By using Styles in Microsoft Word or by adding prearranged codes or tags to the text the copy-editor can show the typesetter how elements of the text need to be treated when producing the proofs. This extends to ensuring that all material is present in the correct form, such as images and tables, and that these elements too have been read carefully and edited. This part of copy-editing is important because it ensures that the next stage of the process occurs smoothly.