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What Exactly Is Copy Editing (or Is It Copy-Editing or Copyediting)?

Have you ever found yourself using a word that, when you stop to think about it for a moment, you realize you do not actually know what it means?  This happens more frequently than we realize, and it is not at all our fault.  It comes from the natural process by which we learn a language—word of mouth.  The way we pick up new words is not by reading them in the dictionary but by hearing others use them.  We then conclude what the words mean based on how we heard them.  They are therefore like messages passed in the children’s game of “telephone.” By the time they have reached us, their meaning can change substantially, and a great example of this is “copy editing.”

“Copy editing” was once clearly defined as one of several editing and proofreading steps a book, novel or other manuscript would go through from the moment it was accepted until its publisher deemed it ready for printing. However, its meaning and use have more recently become muddled.  The reason for this is simple:  With the growing popularity of vanity presses, self-publishing, on-demand publishing and e-books, many—if not all—of the editing steps, along with their jargon, have moved out of the hands of the publishers and into the hands of the authors.  “Copy editing” has become subject to various interpretations, such that if you ask five people what “copy editing” means, you will get five different answers.

I learned a valuable lesson while working as an editor and proofreader for the United Nations. What I learned is that while many people were using “copy editing” without having a clear idea of its meaning, the root concern for authors, professionals and others needing editing and proofreading services was not actually what “copy editing” meant.  What they were looking for instead was how to get the complete editing service traditionally provided by publishers—so they could publish their works themselves—without having to pay a high price for doing so.

This was the thought I had in mind when I set out to develop the concept for a document editing and proofreading company.  What I wanted was to define our levels of service in a way that would be as user-friendly as possible.  I took the traditional levels of editing, and reorganized and modified them to better fit the needs of our clients as they embarked on our new publishing landscape.  The result was Basic Proofreading, Complete Editing Without Comments, Complete Editing with Comments, and Formatting and Layout.  Later came Verification of Citation Sources, Personal Statement Revision and Critique, and Personal Statement Consultation to complete our suite of exclusive editing services.  Since then the response has been overwhelmingly favorable, as our clients no longer have to wonder what “copy editing” means, and what they can expect to receive when hiring us.

Posted in  Copy Editing
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