What Is Copy Editing, Really?

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2014-11-19


Editing. It sounds like a simple process, but what many people don’t realize is there are actually a few types of editing that aim to accomplish different things. The different levels involved are: copy editing, stylistic editing, and more in-depth substantive editing. You may not always need every level of editing on your work, but the one that is needed most often is copy editing. But what is it, really?


Firstly, copy editing can be done by an editor, or it can be done by a copy editor. In some cases, an editor will handle every stage of the editing process, and in other cases work is contracted out to people who specialize in each stage of the processproofreaders, line editors, copy editors, etc.


In all the editing we do, we read for bias and inaccuracies, and any editor worth his or her salt will alert you to any materials that may be libellous (offensive to an individual) or that require copyright permission to reprint (quotations, poems, song lyrics). As well, an editor will read for Canadian and American English and adjust spellings according to your style. It is important that whatever style you choose, it is always consistent. Consistency is a very large part of editing, especially at the copy-editing level.


When we copy edit your work, we correct

  •          grammatical errors
  •          misplaced or incorrectly used punctuation, and
  •          misspelled words


We also:

  •          suggest how to replace misused words and phrases
  •          check that headings/subheadings are well placed
  •          edit tables, figures, and lists
  •          edit photo captions if requested to do so
  •          edit notes, references, and bibliographies (in one of the citation styles: MLA, APA, or Chicago)


In addition, a copy editor will create a Style Sheet that outlines the rules of punctuation, how numbers are used, what is capitalized and what is not, and how words are spelled. They will identify the specialized words you use so that they are used consistently.


Copy editing can move quickly if your writing is clear and sharp. This is called a “light copy edit.” If your work requires more detailed copy editing, it would be a “heavy copy edit” and often will take a bit more time.


In the end, copy editing really comes down to fine-tuning your writing style and making you sound like the very best version of yourself. It takes into account all the small details of writing that you might not even think of, but are nonetheless important. When a reader encounters small errors such as misspelled words, missing words, or grammatical errors, it can really disrupt the flow of the reading. When copy editing, an editor ensures that when someone reads your work, it is the very best experience it could possibly be.