Copy editing (also copy-editing, copyediting) is the work that an editor does to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of text. Unlike general editing, copy editing might not involve changing the substance of the text. Copy refers to written or typewritten text for typesetting, printing, publication, broadcast or other independent distribution. Copy editing is done before both typesetting and proofreading, the latter of which is the last step in the editorial cycle.
In the US and Canada, an editor who does this work is called a copy editor. An organisation's highest-ranking copy editor, or the supervising editor of a group of copy editors, may be known as the copy chief, copy desk chief, or news editor. In book publishing in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world that follow British nomenclature, the term copy editor is used, but in newspaper and magazine publishing, the term is sub-editor (or the unhyphenated subeditor), commonly shortened to sub. The senior sub-editor on a title is frequently called the chief sub-editor. As the "sub" prefix suggests, British copy editors typically have less authority than regular editors.
The term copy editor may also be spelled as one word or in hyphenated form (copyeditor and copy-editor). The hyphenated form is especially common in the UK; in the U.S. newspaper field, use of the two word form is more common.
The "five Cs" summarize the copy editor's job, which is to make the copy "clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent." According to one guide, copy editors should "make it say what it means, and mean what it says". Typically, copy editing involves correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar, terminology, jargon, and semantics, and ensuring that the text adheres to the publisher's style or an external style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook. Copy editors may shorten the text, to improve it or to fit length limits. This is particularly so in periodical publishing, where copy must be cut to fit a particular layout, and the text changed to ensure there are no "short lines".
Often, copy editors are also responsible for adding any "display copy", such as headlines, standardized headers and footers, pullquotes, and photo captions. And, although proofreading is a distinct task from copy editing, frequently it is one of the tasks performed by copy editors.
Copy editors are expected to ensure that the text flows, that it is sensible, fair, and accurate, and that any legal problems have been addressed. If a passage is unclear or an assertion seems questionable, the copy editor may ask the writer to clarify it. Sometimes, the copy editor is the only person, other than the writer, to read an entire text before publication and, for this reason, newspaper copy editors are considered the publication's last line of defense.
The role of the copy editor varies considerably from one publication to another. Some newspaper copy editors select stories from wire service copy; others use desktop publishing software to do design and layout work that once was the province of design and production specialists.
In the setting of academic publishing, scholarly journals also employ copy editors to prepare manuscripts for publication. To distinguish themselves from copy editors working in journalism, these editors sometimes refer to themselves as manuscript editors.
Changes in the field
Traditionally, the copy editor would read a printed or written manuscript, manually marking it with editor's correction marks. Today, the manuscript is more often read on a computer display and text corrections are entered directly.
The nearly universal adoption of computerised systems for editing and layout in newspapers and magazines has also led copy editors to become more involved in design and the technicalities of production. Technical knowledge is therefore sometimes considered as important as writing ability, though this is more true in journalism than it is in book publishing. Hank Glamann, co-founder of the American Copy Editors Society, made the following observation about ads for copy editor positions at American newspapers:
We want them to be skilled grammarians and wordsmiths and write bright and engaging headlines and must know Quark. But, often, when push comes to shove, we will let every single one of those requirements slide except the last one, because you have to know that in order to push the button at the appointed time.
Traits, skills, and training
Besides an excellent command of language, copy editors need broad general knowledge for spotting factual errors; good critical thinking skills in order to recognize inconsistencies or vagueness; interpersonal skills for dealing with writers, other editors and designers; attention to detail; and a sense of style. Also, they must establish priorities and balance a desire for perfection with the necessity to follow deadlines.
Many copy editors have a college degree, often in journalism, the language the text is written in, or communications. In the United States, copy editing is often taught as a college journalism course, though its name varies. The courses often include news design and pagination.
In the United States, The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund sponsors internships that include two weeks of training. Also, the American Press Institute, the Poynter Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UC San Diego Extension and conferences of the American Copy Editors Society offer mid-career training for newspaper copy editors and news editors (news copy desk supervisors).
Most U.S. newspapers and publishers give copy-editing job candidates an editing test or a tryout. These vary widely and can include general items such as acronyms, current events, math, punctuation, and skills such as the use of Associated Press style, headline writing, infographics editing, and journalism ethics.
In both the U.S. and the U.K., there are no official bodies offering a single recognized qualification.
In the U.K., several companies provide a range of courses unofficially recognised within the industry. Training may be on the job or through publishing courses, privately run seminars, or correspondence courses of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The National Council for the Training of Journalists also has a qualification for subeditors.
- Julia Armstrong, "Copyediting and proofreading", University of Toronto, p. 2.
- Peter Lyons and Howard J. Doueck, The Dissertation: From Beginning to End, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 170.
- Williams, Robert H (25 April 1978). "When the 'Last Line of Defense' Failed". The Washington Post,. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
- Iverson, Cheryl (2004). ""Copy editor" vs. "manuscript editor" vs...: venturing onto the minefield of titles". Science Editor 27 (2): 39–41. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "Workshop: Keeping your copy editors happy". The American Society of Newspaper Editors. 7 August 2002. Archived from the original on 7 February 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- The Art of Editing, by Floyd K. Baskette, Jack Z. Sissors, and Brian S. Brooks.
- Butcher, Judith; Drake, Caroline; Leach, Maureen (2006). Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders (4 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84713-1. Retrieved 18 September 2012
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