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Your Guide to the Guide: Part 3 Copy Editing


I offer copy editing and highlighted proofreading services. Copy-editing is the process of taking the raw material (the ‘copy’ of a novel or a web page) and making it ready for publication as a book, article, website, broadcast or whatever.

A copy editor ensures that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free from error, inconsistency, omission or repetition. By picking up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, the copy editor alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.

It’s all about effective communication: you have something to say, and don’t want that message spoiled or diluted by mechanical errors. Is the copy is complete? (Some clients I have had have missed a chapter or sent an incomplete document to a publisher.) Do the chapter titles and other elements match the list of contents? Are all the illustrations in the right place? Do footnotes match up? A copy editor also fixes page set-up, spacing and fonts, cuts unwanted formatting, corrects errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, style and usage, as well as overuse of italic, bold, capitals, exclamation marks and the passive voice.

On another level, copy editing corrects or queries doubtful facts, weak arguments, plot holes and gaps in numbering. Have characters mysteriously changed their names or hair colour? It’s surprisingly common. A copy editor also looks for sudden changes from first to third person or alterations in verb tense (again, surprisingly common) and monitors the timeline of the story, among other things.

Writers understandably get absorbed by the minutiae of their own work. It’s a copy editor’s job to step back and ask if anything is missing or redundant and whether things are logical. Is the language pitched at the right level for the target audience? Do any terms or abbreviations need explaining? Are tone, style and vocabulary appropriate to the intended audience?

The copy-editor will often spot misquotations, errors of fact, misspelt names, misused words, numbers that don't add up and incomplete references, and will check or query them, as well as anything that does not seem to make sense.

Experienced copy-editors also know about technical issues like page breaks, special characters, types of image.

The aim of all this is a document that is coherent and clear, technically correct and complete. It’s well worth the trouble and expense. See the Guide for more, including pricing.

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