Copy editing makes sure a piece of writing is accurate, clear and correct. It’s the step that gets a text ready to publish. Specifically, depending on the publication, it involves most or all of the following:

Elements of Copy Editing

  • Checking the facts (names, dates, times, places, past events, etc.).
  • Checking the math (percents, totals, tax rates, etc.).
  • Ensuring that the writing is free from libel and conforms to the ethical standards of the publication and the profession.
  • Smoothing/streamlining prose to make it flow cleanly from one point to the next.
  • Trimming unnecessary words to make the prose clearer.
  • Cutting to fit in a designated print space while preserving the most important points.
  • Eliminating jargon and paraphrasing convoluted quotes to make the writing more understandable.
  • Ensuring the grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct.
  • Ensuring the prose conforms to style (AP, Chicago, APA, etc.).
  • Ensuring all charts, maps and graphics are correct.
  • Proofreading print and online pages.
  • Last, but extremely important: Writing clear, accurate, engaging display type – headlines (print/web/mobile), sub-headlines and overlines, summaries, photo captions, teasers, refers – anything that stands apart from the actual text. This is so important because display type is the only part some people read.

Other jobs carry the title of “editor” as well:

Acquisitions editors (or acquiring editors) work in book publishing, deciding which titles to publish and working with authors.

Assigning editors manage reporting assignments for news or feature publications. They decide what needs to get covered and when, and who should do it. Many other people in mass media carry the title of “editor” – city editor, desk editor, photo editor, video editor, managing editor, etc. – and their job duties vary from place to place.

Development editors (or content editors) take a longer piece of writing (a book or long-form article) from concept to final draft. They work with authors primarily on structure, flow and organization, though many do copy editing as well.

And then proofreaders are the last step before publication, checking to make sure corrections were made and no errors remain, and ensuring layout and typographical standards are met.

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