Introduction to Copyediting

From this post on copyediting, I am starting a series on English language editing (Editing and proofreading). This series is based on the book “The Copyeditor’s handbook” by Amy Einsohn. Her book has guided in my journey as a proof reader and now it’s my turn to bring her points to all of you in a different way. I will be explaining the concepts of copyediting in a concise manner with emphasis on the main points and with the help of diagrams.


Copyediting is a process of reviewing or checking the written material for grammatical, syntax, content, and language accuracy. The main purpose of copyediting is to improve the quality of the written material and to make it more relevant to the audience.

What do Copyeditors do?

The role of copyeditors is to review the document written by the author/writer and make it ready for publishing. Once the author has written the document/article/script/book, it goes to the copyeditors for language review. Following are the tasks, a copyeditor will perform on the document:

1. Mechanical Editing

Mechanical editing forms the backbone of any editing work. It includes the basics of editing which are checking the spellings, hyphenations, capitalization, punctuation, numerical, quotes, abbreviations and acronyms, and fonts style and size. The mechanical editing should change the look and feel of the document and not the meaning of the document.

If you have worked in the field of publishing, you must have heard the term – Style Guide or Style Manual. To maintain a uniform language style across all publications, the various publishing houses use a common Style Manual or in-house Style Guide. The Style Guide helps the authors and copyeditors to be on the same page and produce consistent documents.

2. Language Editing

Language editing includes checking the grammar, language use, and diction. As compared to mechanical editing, language editing is more subjective and there are no specific style guides that a copyeditor can refer to see a particular kind of language writing style. But every publishing house or company has their own grammar and diction rules beside the universally accepted grammar, language, and diction rules.

3. Content Editing

Content editing is about checking the consistency, flow, and structure of the content. During content editing, copyeditors need help from the Subject Matter Experts before they suggest any changes to the content. If there is a general discrepancy in the accuracy of the content like the date about a historic movement, you can put across a query to the author for them to make the changes. While checking the content, the copyeditors also check about the relevance of the content to the target audience.

4. Cross-Checking the References

The copyeditors also check if the cross-references given in the document are accurate. This could include checking the page numbers, Table of Contents or website links given in the content for further content reference.

5. Copyright Screening

The copyeditors also make a note that all the images used, content quoted from different books or authors have been used with due permission from the respective source. It is also copyeditor’s responsibility to educate the authors about the copyright rules and regulations.

6. Type Coding

In the end, the copyeditors type code the text that is not part of the running text like headings, sub-headings, titles, subtitles, lists, table numbers, captions, footnotes, etc.

Six main tasks in Copyediting

The Dilemma of Copyeditors

The copyeditors work on the document written by the author and submits it to the publisher within a stipulated time. The performance of a copyeditor depends upon the skills of the author and the expectations of the publisher. Sometimes the authors expect the copyeditors to proofread their work with a fine-tooth comb when they think that their document could use a second pair of eyes. But the publisher or the manager may not give time to the copyeditor for fine-tooth comb review. On the other hand, sometimes the author may only want the copyeditors to give a cursory glance to the document but the publisher/manager may expect the copyeditor to sift through the document with a magnifying glass.

The copyeditors need to maintain a balance between the expectations of these team members and use their judgement to make the correct decision. Even if the author asks the copyeditor to just glance through the document, it is upon the copyeditor to decide whether this document can be passed just after glancing through. Some of the tell-tale signs of a bad document would be glaring grammatical errors, syntax errors, etc. However, if the copyeditor has worked with the author before and is confident of the quality of the document, they still need to sift through the document as per the expectations of their job and the publisher.

Rules of Copyediting

Once the author submits their work, as a copyeditor, you cannot:

  1. Change the intended meaning of the document
  2. Introduce new errors in to the document
  3. Damage the document by changing the formatting or destroying the template
  4. Re-write the part of the document without the author’s permission
  5. Impose your writing style on author’s work

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