What is copy-editing?

Generally speaking, if you have a first draft of a text that you are mostly happy with but that you feel needs a once-over before proceeding to the next step – to a publisher, printer or professor – then you are looking for a copy-edit.

As the Society for Editors and Proofreaders puts it, ‘The aim of copy-editing is to ensure that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. This process picks up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.’

More prosaically, your copy-editor is your first reader, your first critic and your first line of defence. Your copy-editor will save you time, stress and money by making sure that your text is its most perfect self before reaching the state at which it is much more difficult (if not impossible) to change.

What will you do specifically?

Editorial style guide. Consistency is key. If you already have a list of style preferences for spelling (e.g. European English rather than US English), capitalisation, punctuation, etc., then I will ensure that the text is in alignment with this style. If you don’t then I will work with you to create a style guide to be implemented.

Sentence structure and internal logic. Aside from fixing typos and other grammatical errors, I will make sure the text is well organised and that the ideas presented are clear and flow freely.

Fact-checking. You will of course be the expert when it comes to your project, but I will be looking to see that you’re getting the details right: the dates, the titles, the foreign-language accents. Any queries I have will be flagged for your attention.

Clear, straight-forward feedback. Every project is different and I will adapt to your specific needs. Copy-editing feedback will most often take the form of a Word document with changes tracked so that you can see each and every change. Passages of text for which I have more specific questions or issues will be flagged as a comment within the file.

How can copy-editing save me money?

Costs incurred in having your project copy-edited pale in comparison to the unsavoury problems you might encounter if you skip this step. It is much easier to address issues with the text – such as inconsistencies in style and grammatical, logical or structural problems – before it reaches the proof stage (i.e. after a designer has set the text). And fixing larger textual problems after the design has been set also raises the risk that new errors will be inserted that may make it all the way to the printers – a potentially costly mistake if the error is large enough to necessitate a reprint.

For more information on what copy-editors do, see the Society for Editors and Proofreaders website.