What is Copy Editing?

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:

  • 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.

It's been said that copy editors are the "first readers" as well as the “last line of defense” – they approach a text not from the point of view of the writer, but the reader. They are advocates for the readers; they are "quality control" for the publication.

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.

Also, plenty of people edit as part of their jobs, and not just in journalism and communications. People who are specialists in public relations or advertising, web designers and content managers, writers in nonprofits and business – anyone who ever has to check a report, memo or newsletter is an editor that day. The skills of an editor are important in a wide variety of professions.