Copyediting: What is it and what is it not?

When you hire a copyeditor, you might have various questions about exactly what type of service you will receive. Does it include proofreading? Is the editor going to “crimp my style?” Will I have the final say? These questions are just a few examples of the ones that could be on your mind.

I won’t try to explain the differences between copyediting and proofreading, because there are already lots of articles on that topic published online (like this fantastic example by Grammarly). With this post, I want to clarify a series of points about what copyediting is and what it’s not, based on my own professional experience.

What isn’t copyediting?

Let’s start with everything that isn’t or doesn’t include copyediting. Often, a client’s biggest fears have to do with this question, so I hope you’ll find what follows to be useful.

– Copyediting is not intended to change the author’s style: A copyeditor should never change the author’s style, but rather fit it to the appropriate context (writing a thesis is not the same as writing a novel, for example), apply the rules of the relevant stylebook (if any), eliminate errors and inconsistencies, etc.

– Copyediting does not include the modification or creation of style sheets: Strangely enough, I have encountered this confusion more than once (maybe because of the Spanish term for copyediting: corrección de estilo). In case you’re unaware, style sheets govern everything related to the visualization of a text file. Although those of us who work with all types of digital files may find some knowledge of their main languages (such as CSS) useful, copyediting is a service that deals exclusively with the written word.

– Copyediting is not used to circumvent plagiarism detectors: Yes, I have been asked this. Apart from the fact that a copyeditor never makes substantive changes to a text to the extent necessary to fool a plagiarism detector, to do such a thing would make the copyeditor an accomplice to a crime.

– Copyedits are not set in stone: This is what worries many authors the most. However, the changes and recommendations of a copyeditor must be clearly visible (by using track changes and inserting comments within the Word document, for example), and the author is free to accept or reject such modifications, as well as to pose any questions that may arise. Said another way: the author always has the last word.

What is copyediting?

Let’s go on to list some features of copyediting that often cause confusion for clients:

– Copyediting is an attempt to improve a text: According to Wikipedia, it “is the process of reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.” But what do these beautiful words mean? A more ample and precise vocabulary, corrections according to established grammatical norms, increased flow and better rhythm…

– Copyediting includes proofreading: This is a frequently asked question whose answer is a resounding yes. Copyediting is nothing more than an extension of proofreading, including checks on spelling, punctuation, and consistency.

– Copyediting is a set of recommendations: It should be stressed that the author has the last word. If you hire a copyeditor, you should be able to find all their suggested modifications and improvements at a glance and have the freedom to ask questions and make the decisions you consider appropriate.

– Copyediting must involve the author: In effect, this point has a lot to do with the previous one. It is the author who is ultimately responsible for his or her text, so it is to be expected that he or she be involved in the process. In addition, the copyeditor may need to ask questions as his or her work progresses, so communication between the two parties is essential. And, naturally, copyeditors are human and sometimes we make miskates mistakes too.

Thank you for reading! I hope you found this article useful. If you still have questions or would like to add something, don’t hesitate: leave a comment or ask me directly.