Editing Course: Intro to Copyediting

Today, I had to go out and didn’t think I would be able to study at all. We arrived home earlier than expected, so I decided to grab the opportunity to go over the next topic as I really don’t want to fall behind this early in the course.

Luckily for me, the topic was short and I was familiar with the content, but as I’m a firm believer that we can’t go wrong in having a refresher course, that’s how I looked at the study period.

3: Introduction to Copyediting

Because there is so much to do in copyediting, it’s best to work in an organised, methodical manner. If the work to be edited is fiction, it will be approached in a different way to a commercial document.

Business documents are categorised into professional and non-professional work. By doing this, the editor can judge the formality of language used.

Novel and short story manuscripts are a different matter. The editor must determine the tone of the novel first and then start editing once they know the author’s approach.

The language/reading level for children’s books will need to be considered separately.

Once the above is determined (ie type of document and target audience) then the work is done in stages, depending on length and complexity. An editor should never try to tackle punctuation, grammar, formatting, inconsistency, etc all in one reading. It is too much. Instead, it is better to break the editing into stages. Start with grammar, punctuation and spelling then move on to consistency and formatting issues.

It’s important when copyediting not be become involved in the story when working on a novel/short story manuscript. A copyeditor must concentrate on the words presented on the page otherwise the brain will see what it expects to see and obvious errors will be overlooked.

Concentrate on all punctuation marks. Are they in the right place? Are the right marks used?

Look at each word individually and how it’s used in a sentence. Is it the correct word? Is it the best word? Are too many words used? Are words use repetitively? If unsure about spelling, always refer to a dictionary.

Check the grammar. Is the author using active or passive sentences? Are there too many fragment sentences? Are there a variety of varying lengths in sentences? Is the sentence structure correct? When unsure about grammar useage, always refer to a grammar tool. Never guess!

An editor looks for consistency too. A story set in the Australian 1920s will not have a driver fastening his seat belt as they didn’t exist then. They will watch for other consistency issues too, such as was the pregnant woman at the beginning of the story, still pregnant two years later when the story finishes? Did the blue-eyed blond at the beginning of the chapter suddenly end up with raven coloured hair by the end of the chapter? Was it sunrise when the hero started talking and midnight when he finished?

A good editor will pick up on all these things. They will also find the following errors:

1. Word consistencies, such as “e-mail” in the first half of the manuscript and “email” in the second half.
2. “Chapter 1: The Beginning” but later in the manuscript “Chapter Ten – Escape”.
3. A character talks formally all the way through the story, except for one scene.

A copyeditor looks for errors and inconsistencies, they should never change the meaning of a sentence. However, they should suggest a better way of phrasing a sentence if one exists.

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