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 The Diary of a Word Nerd

  • Writer's pictureGrace Kidder

What Is Copyediting?

Copyediting is an integral part of the writing process, but one that few people outside of the publishing industry know about. So what is it? Sure, you know what editing is, but what does the "copy" part of it mean? That answer is pretty simple: copy refers to written text, digital or printed. What copyediting entails takes a little more explaining. Before we get to that, it may be helpful to first learn about how copyediting fits into the process a piece of writing must go through before it can be published. This graphic from Owlcation is a helpful visual that sums up the following steps.

The revision process can be a long one, filled with many different rounds of edits. First you might send your manuscript to a developmental or structural editor (sometimes these are two different individuals) to get feedback on the strength of your narrative. Then the text would probably be sent to a line editor for help with sentence structure and word choice. Copyediting is generally the second-to-last step in the revision process and comes right before proofreading.

Copyediting: What Is It?

Copyediting is the process of reviewing text for errors on a technical level. Some things a copyeditor looks for include mistakes in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. A copyeditor can also provide feedback on syntax, sentence structure, and how to improve the overall flow of a piece of writing. There is often a lot of back-and-forth between the author and the copyeditor as edits are suggested and implemented. This step in the editing process precedes the proofreading stage, in case any changes need to be made.

There are varying degrees of copyediting, and a copyeditor should discuss the preferred level of editing with their writer before beginning any revisions. A light copyedit generally only includes correcting incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as ensuring consistency in all those aspects (copyeditors do this by using or creating a style sheet, which we'll talk about in a later post). A deep (or heavy) copyedit involves eliminating wordiness, changing words or sentences to improve readability, and similar substantial edits.

Does that sound a little bit like what I described as a line edit? That's because a deep copyedit and a line edit are pretty similar; some editors will even use the two terms interchangeably. Things like this actually happen quite a bit in the editing world. Some editors consider developmental and structural editing to be the same thing, while others see them as two separate stages. Then there are even more steps that some people include like fact checking, indexing, and formatting. If this all sounds confusing, don't worry—even editors can't agree on how many different kinds of editing there are!

Do I Need a Copyeditor?

You may think that only book authors need and use copyeditors, but in reality, any kind of writer might utilize them. Articles, web content, academic papers, blog posts, and even business emails can benefit from copyediting. In fact, these types of text are primarily the kinds of projects I work on! Why wouldn't you want to ensure that your grant proposal sounds the best it can or that your website is free of errors?

The truth is, copyediting is a useful stage of the writing process for any type of writer. Whether you're a seasoned author, a writer who's just starting out, a business owner, a blogger, a grad student, or anybody who writes content for others to read, copyediting can save you from embarrassing spelling errors, incorrect grammar, confusing sentences, and more. If you have a piece of writing that you think would benefit from having another pair of eyes look over it, head on over to my contact page and leave your info. I'd love to chat about it!

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