To edit something means to revise it. The only purpose of revising something is to make it better.
Copy editing is the process of checking written material for grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation issues. A copy editor may also do a rewrite to fix problems with transitions, wordiness, jargon, and to ensure the style of the piece fits with the publication. [Source: grammarly.com]
Although many copy editors will have slightly different views on precisely what the process involves, the NY Book Editors website provides a useful and more detailed description. It is also one which coincides with Serotine Editing’s approach. They advise that a copy editor:
- Checks for and corrects errors in grammar, spelling, syntax, and punctuation.
- Checks for technical consistency in spelling, capitalisation, font usage, numerals, hyphenation. For example, is it ‘e-mail’ on page 26 and ’email’ on page 143? Or do you use both British and American English spelling variations interchangeably, such as ‘favourite’ vs. ‘favorite’?
- Checks for continuity errors and makes sure that all loose ends are tied.
- Checks for factually incorrect statements. This is a necessary part of the copyediting process for non-fiction manuscripts, such as historical pieces and memoirs. The copyeditor must check if the facts in your manuscript are accurate and if the names and dates are correct.
- Checks for potential legal liability. The copyeditor verifies that your manuscript does not libel others.
- Checks for inconsistency within the story. This includes character description, plot points, and setting. Does each character stay true to their own description throughout the story? Are there conflicting descriptions of the house? For example, have you described the setting as ‘a yellow brick home’ on one page but ‘a weathered wooden cottage’ on another page?
The copy editor’s job, then, involves much more than just checking the grammar and the spelling. Copy editing and proofreading are separate tasks, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably by people who don’t know the difference.
In publishing, as a final step before actual printing takes place, after it has been edited, laid out, and designed, the proofreader searches for typographical and layout errors. The proofreader works with a facsimile of a finished product, or a proof (hence the term proofreading).
Proofreaders don’t suggest major changes to the text; instead, they look for minor text and formatting errors and confirm the material is ready for publication.
The proofreader’s job is to check for quality before the book goes into mass production. He or she takes the original edited copy and compares it to the proof, making sure that there are no omissions or missing pages. The proofreader corrects awkward word or page breaks.
While they may do light editing (such as correcting inconsistent spelling or hyphenations), the proofreader is not a copyeditor. If too many errors are cited, they may return the proof for further copyediting.
Traditional publishers require professional proofreading as a quality assurance measure before printing a mass quantity of books.
Self-publishing authors who have had their manuscript professionally copyedited often choose to skip the proofread. If you’re on a budget, you might try to correct your own work, since there won’t be as many errors to contend with at that stage. A word of caution, however. This is your final chance to get everything right before the final product is produced. Don’t waste the opportunity.
Check through the proof copy page by page, paying close attention to the layout in particular. You’ll be surprised at how small errors that may have slipped through all previous checks. Mistakes which could have been picked up easily by a thorough examination of the proof can undo all the work you’ve put into achieving a professional and high-quality final product.