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The Value of Copy Editing

Paula Plantier
Nov 25, 2007
Copy editing is a most important and time-consuming task. It requires the editor's close attention to a document's every detail, a thorough knowledge of what to look for and of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.

To begin with, editors are thoroughly familiar with and comfortable applying the universally accepted editorial and typographic marks and symbols--as described in "The Chicago Manual of Style" and summarized under "proofreader's marks" in "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary"--that are commonly understood by compositors working in English.

The editorial function comprises two processes: mechanical editing and substantive editing. Mechanical editing involves a close reading, with an eye on consistency of capitalization, spelling, and hyphenation; on agreement of verbs and subjects; on scores of other matters of syntax; on punctuation, such as beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses; on the correct number of ellipsis points (it varies!); on numbers given either as figures or as words; and on hundreds of other, similar details of grammatical and typographic style.

In addition to regularizing those details of style, the copy editor is expected to catch infelicities of expression that mar an author's prose and impede communication. Such matters include but are by no means limited to dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, mixed metaphors, unclear antecedents, unintentional redundancies, faulty attempts at parallel construction, mistaken junction, overuse of an author's pet word or phrase, unintentional repetition of words, race or gender or geographic bias, and hyphenating in the predicate--unless, of course, the hyphenated term is an entry in the dictionary and therefore permanently hyphenated in every grammatical case.

The second, nonmechanical, process--substantive editing--involves rewriting, reorganizing, or suggesting more-effective ways to present material.
  • Editors identify by instinct and learn from experience how much of this kind of editing to do on a particular document.
  • Experienced editors recognize, and do not tamper with, an author's unusual figures of speech or idiomatic usage.
  • They preserve the author's voice with a view toward the faithful reproduction of the author's manuscript.
  • They silently correct inconsistencies, misusages, and misspellings solely for the purpose of clarifying the unclear.
  • They know when to make an editorial change or simply suggest it.
  • They know when to delete a repetition or merely point it out to the author.
  • They respect an author's right to expect conscientious, intelligent editorial help.
  • They never make queries that sound stupid, naive, or pedantic or that seem to reflect upon an author's scholarly ability or powers of interpretation.
  • And they handle untold and unsung other matters of mechanics, substance, and style.
About the Author
Paula Plantier is principal of http://www.editamerica.com/ . EditAmerica copyedits, rewrites, revises, fact-checks, proofreads, and measurably improves executive resumes as well as every other conceivable kind of written communication--and in either English, French, or Spanish.

Paula performs those editorial services in a wide range of subjects for individuals as well as for organizations in all industries, such as academia, business and marketing, medicine and pharmaceutics, and science and high technology. Satisfaction with the service is guaranteed or the service is free.
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