Copy Editing

Copy editing is a most important and time-consuming task for those involved in the field. It requires the sensitive editorial handling of print material of every kind. And it requires the editor’s close attention to a document’s every detail, its format, and all of its elements; a thorough knowledge of what to look for and of the style to be followed as desired by the author or client; and the ability to make quick, logical, objective, justifiable, and defensible decisions in the correction of spelling, grammar, punctuation, terminology, sentence structure, clarity, conciseness, tone and voice, inconsistencies, and typographical errors. Valued editors are those who know editorial and factual things that others don’t know and who offer keen understanding of an author’s need to advance communication.

To begin with, copy editors are thoroughly familiar with and comfortable applying the universally accepted editorial and typographic marks and symbols—as described in the Chicago Manual of Style and summarized under proofreader’s marks in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition—that are commonly understood by compositors working in English.

The editorial function comprises two processes: mechanical editing and substantive editing. Mechanical editing involves a close reading, with an eye on consistency of capitalization, spelling, and hyphenation and other end-of-line word breaks; agreement between verbs and subjects; scores of other matters of syntax; punctuation; beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses; number of ellipsis points; numbers given either as figures or as words; and hundreds of other, similar details of grammatical, editorial, and typographic style.

In addition to regularizing those details of style, the copy editor is expected to catch infelicities of expression that mar an author’s prose and impede communication. Such matters include but are by no means limited to dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, mixed metaphors, unclear antecedents, unintentional redundancies, faulty attempts at parallel construction, mistaken junction, overuse of an author’s pet word or phrase, unintentional repetition of words, race or gender or geographic bias, and hyphenating in the predicate, unless, of course, the hyphenated term is an entry in the dictionary and therefore permanently hyphenated in every grammatical case. Job seekers, especially, need to attend to such details in their executive résumé.

The second, nonmechanical, process—called substantive editing—involves rewriting, reorganizing, or suggesting more-effective ways to present material.

o Editors identify by instinct and learn from their experience how much of this kind of editing to do on a particular document.

o Experienced editors recognize and do not tamper with an author’s unusual figures of speech or idiomatic usage that is pertinent to a work.

o They preserve the author’s voice with a view toward the faithful reproduction of the author’s manuscript.

o They silently correct inconsistencies, misusages, and misspellings solely for the purpose of clarifying the unclear.

o They know when to go ahead and make an editorial change or simply suggest it to the author.

o They know when to delete a repetition, when to change it for variation, and when to merely point it out to the author or to job seeker on an executive résumé.

o They respect an author’s right to expect conscientious, intelligent editorial help.

o They never make queries that sound stupid, naive, or pedantic or that seem to reflect upon an author’s scholarly ability or powers of interpretation.

* Adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style

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