The internet is riddled with ‘Punctuation saves lives’ quotes. “Hunters please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walk trails,”- on a hunting notice. “Let’s eat grandma!”- on postcards. “Some people find inspiration in cooking their families and their dogs. Others find inspiration in cooking, their families, and their dogs.” It is instructive how much grief you can avoid by subjecting your writing to copy editing.
Essentially, copy editing is the process of going through text to check for errors, accuracy, consistency and mindless repetition. Copy editing ensures that both the author and the reader are on the same page while also ensuring the reader has intellectual engagement with the author’s material. The process too saves on unnecessary expenditure; say the need to engage a lawyer as misleading facts or libel are captured before the publication goes to print.
In editing for substance, the copy editor looks at the written material in totality: its presentation, scope, length, level, organisation, images and so on. He might suggest that the author rewrite sections of the material, rearrange the material so that it flows seamlessly, suggest the kind of images the author should use as well as the house style to be adopted for the publication. The copy editor also advises accordingly on copyright- infringement; attribution of articles, quotations, images- and plagiarism.
The copy editor is also tasked with editing for sense. Here, he delves into the nitty gritty that is the content: Is the information flowing logically? What about punctuation? Are acronyms and abbreviations used correctly? Does the information in the tables, charts and graphs tally with that on the text? Is there information that needs to be updated? Are captions used appropriately? And so on.
The copy editor also checks for consistency. For example, ensuring everything is in UK English if that was the desired language, checking that the table of contents is paginated correctly, that footnotes and references match accordingly with the text, and that the style adopted for poignant excerpts next to the text is the same throughout the publication.
Lastly, copy editing is concerned with the layout of the material in the publication before it goes to press. This ensures that all the components of the material are in tandem and are easily identified. As such, the copy editor ensures that headings, subheading, tables, images, italicised text and so on have been placed correctly. He also communicates to the printer in advance about any part of the publication needing special treatment. These might include covers, images and tables.
As the copy editor seeks to better a publication, he is never alone. He constantly works with designers, the publisher, other copy editors to serve as a fresh piece of eyes, and the author. Upon receiving the manuscript, he goes through it to get a feel for it. In the process, he may notice that language is mixed up, part of the information is not clear or that part of the tables is missing. He then works closely with the author to rectify these errors of omission or commission, advising on the style to be adopted and so on.