You’ve probably heard of proofreading but not copyediting. Have no fear, you’re in the right place to discover what is copyediting and just who exactly needs a copyeditor.
In reality, copyediting is the most critical step in the editing process. This is where each sentence is analyzed to make sure it’s grammatically correct and consistent so readers can enjoy and understand the message without a problem. When an author skips a solid copyedit, they can face harsh criticism from readers who struggle to enjoy a book that’s filled with grammatical errors and inconsistencies.
What’s the difference between proofreading and copyediting?
Proofreading is the last step in the editing or writing process. It happens after the text has already been written and copyedited at minimum. Some books go through multiple rounds of editing: developmental, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading.
Proofreading only checks for basic spelling errors, typos, homophones, punctuation errors, and even formatting problems. It catches any small error that wasn’t caught during a copyedit. Read more about proofreading in our article about proofreading. Documents that have a significant amount of errors cannot adequately be proofread and are recommended to be copyedited instead.
Copyediting is the essential editing step that should come right before a proofread. This is where all grammar problems are corrected and inconsistencies are fixed. A great copyeditor knows how to use powerful grammar tools to make sure verb tenses are correct, correct prepositions or descriptive words are used, details are consistent, facts are correct, and much more. Copyediting makes sure the book will be easy for readers to enjoy without grammatical errors of any kind.
What is copyediting exactly?
There’s a lot that goes into a quality copyedit, so it’s important for a copyeditor to be well-trained so that industry-standard editing rules are followed. This ensures absolute consistency throughout the document, otherwise, the author has no idea what rules the copyeditor is following.
Sometimes, copyeditors are the only editor hired to review a book or article before it’s self-published. That’s why they must have a strong grasp of the English language and grammar. It’s their job to review each sentence for advanced grammatical errors, syntax problems, inconsistencies, incorrect facts or details, punctuation problems, and more. They may even update passive voice to active voice or update short words or phrases with more compelling language—sparingly. Think: “she said” to “Carrie wondered.”
If the author accidentally described a character as a child in one scene, and a teen in another, the copyeditor should catch that and work with the author to update it appropriately. They’ll also make notes or update any inconsistencies to the plot (location changes, timeline problems, etc.) so that readers don’t get confused.
Copyeditor jobs will include reviewing the work from the reader’s eyes while keeping the author’s voice intact. A great copyeditor must enhance the text without sacrificing how the author wants to sound or project the message. This goes for corporate documents as well if the company has a specific brand voice they want to project to readers.
Copyeditors should also fact check as they edit. If the author references a specific hotel in a well-known city, copyeditors make sure it exists and is spelled correctly. The same goes for statistics, titles, or any other detail that’s truly factual.
A copyeditor should follow an accepted style guide to ensure the treatments of words (spelling) is consistent. Many books use Chicago Manual of Style, some books and most corporate publications use AP or NYT, and scientific documents usually use APA.
What is a copyediting example?
Many authors worry that copyeditors will completely rewrite their book or remove their voice entirely. Sadly, inexperienced (or egotistical) copyeditors have been known to do that, which is why it’s important for freelance copyeditors to be trained to edit from a reader’s perspective and with respect to the author’s work. Their focus is on grammar and enhancing the writing so the author’s voice shines through more powerfully. Look at this example to see how much was improved.
This passage went from a confusing mess of grammar and mixed verb tenses to a concise, clear, and compelling set of sentences. This is the magic that happens when a great copyeditor gets their hands on writing that needs a little extra help to share the message more clearly.
Who needs copyediting?
Now that you know how essential copyediting is, you can probably guess who needs copyediting. First-time authors, established authors, companies, and publishing houses make up the majority of people and organizations who need great copyeditors. These trained professionals provide an essential skill set to ensure the integrity of the written word.
Many writers aren’t aware that a copyeditor is an essential part of the editing process once they’ve finished their book. Or they mistakenly (but commonly) believe that a proofreader will correct all the grammar problems. Copyeditors are the hidden heroes of published books.
Companies often hire dedicated copyeditors to join their marketing or editorial team. They want to ensure perfect copy is published or emailed to their customers. Frequent, poor grammar is the sign of a company that may not care about the small details or has a poor reputation, so it’s critical for companies to make sure their documents are free of grammatical errors. Many companies follow a style guide and create their own house style for copyeditors to follow to keep their message consistent.
How to become a copyeditor?
Are you intrigued by how important copyediting is to the writing and editing process? Now that you know the answer to “what is copyediting,” you can become a copyeditor and proofreader to help countless writers improve their work. There’s a huge demand for quality copyeditors to help writers and companies from every genre or industry produce excellent content.
The Editing Academy has a two-for-one master course that can teach you to become a copyeditor and proofreader. With two skill sets, you’ll be in a better position to assist people in the writing industry and earn more money than if you chose to just be a proofreader.
Learn more about the Editing Made Easy master course from The Editing Academy.