Manuscript Copy Editing
A copy-editor makes sure that an author’s raw text, or copy, is correct in terms of spelling and grammar and is easy to read so that readers can grasp his or her ideas. A copy-editor also tries to prevent embarrassing errors of fact, alerts the writer/publisher to any possible legal problems.
Professional copy-editors correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, style and usage. However, copy-editing is not just about dotting Is and crossing Ts. Editors also tackle the following:
- Suitability of text for intended audience Has the language been pitched at the right level? Do any terms or abbreviations need explanation?
- Extent Is the work too long/short? If it hasn’t already been done by the publisher, the copy-editor, knowing the approximate number of words that the publisher wants per page in the finished book or journal, will calculate how many pages the text will make. Illustrations, if any, shouldn’t be forgotten. All preliminary pages (title page, table of contents, etc.) should be included, as well as such things as footnotes, glossary, appendices and index. If the work is too long or too short, a solution will be sought with the publisher.
- Content and structure Is anything missing or redundant? Is the order logical? Headings break up text and make it more readable: are there enough of them? If there are more than four levels of sub-headings, the structure probably needs to be rethought. Are footnotes essential? Could ‘supporting material’ go into an appendix? Is a bibliography necessary? Should there be a glossary?
- Sentence and paragraph length This is dependent on the readership, the type of copy and how the copy is going to be read (e.g. in a book or on a computer screen). In general, however, sentences should be kept short or at least uncomplicated, and new paragraphs should introduce new ideas and help break up a page. Typesetting may change line length, and the copy-editor will know what to do to compensate for this.
- Consistency A list of decisions about alternative spellings and hyphenation has to be kept. Illustrations and tables should agree with the text and captions, as should chapter headings and running heads with the table of contents.
- Illustrations and tables Illustrations should support the text and have appropriate captions. Text referring to tables should comment on the data, not simply repeat it. The location of each illustration and table should be roughly indicated in the manuscript (to guide the typesetter when laying out the pages). The copy-editor will also need to ensure that all artwork is suitable for printing or (if appropriate) for reproduction on the web.
- Accuracy All spellings of names of people and things should be checked. The extent to which facts, dates, quotations, etc. are to be checked will be agreed with the publisher/client.