The word itself, copyedit, is ambivalent. As a verb, it’s one word (preferred), but as a noun, it’s two words, copy editor, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, so don’t believe everything your spellchecker tells you. If you look for a meaning, M-W says that a copy editor is “an editor who prepares copy for the typesetter” (a rather comfortable definition that conjures up visions of a visored, heavily bespectacled, desk-bound word wizard) and allows you to infer the active sense of the word from the noun.
Most sources seem to agree that the gerund (a “verbal noun,” courtesy of M-W again) copy editing is a process involving proofreading (one word), although they differ as to exactly where the proofreading should enter into the mix; but by its name, proofreading is the final operation of the process. The proofreader ensures that the editorial mechanics of writing have been observed in the proof, i.e., that the spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, verb-tense consistency, noun-pronoun agreement, spacing and formatting consistency are all correct. In short, the writer has presented the text cleanly, accurately, and clearly.
Before this final check, the actual copy edit itself may entail many different operations, depending on the type of text involved and its purpose. There are basic style guides for various text types, but one of the most versatile is The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), preferred by many book and commercial publishers and used for academic papers and journals, with a choice of two source citation styles, our corporate choice at CSA Education. Other style guides and their features are The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook (news writing, media journalism), the American Psychological Association (APA) Publication Manual (scientific publishing, in-text citation style), and the Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook (web publishing, source citation template). All these style guides overlap somewhat, offering similar features but with their different emphases.
Some of the more mechanical operations of copy editing, such as citation formatting (after the fact-checking is finished) and creating a table of contents, glossary, and index, or perhaps an appendix, are performed after the actual revisions to the text, in the form of adjusting paragraph structure, eliminating redundancies, replacing word repetitions with synonyms, substituting weak words with stronger choices, and shaping phrases and sentences, have been made. After one or two of these revisions are finished, preferably without any substantive or line editing (otherwise known as rewriting), the author’s information or ideas still must be effectively conveyed and with the intended tone.
After the author has signed off on the proofs, the text is ready for publishing, and the copy editor can heave a sigh of relief until the next manuscript is ready for the process to begin all over again.
At CSA Education, our style guide of choice is The Chicago Manual of Style because of its versatility, supported by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, although we accommodate specific requests made by clients who prefer other authorities or have their own style guide, such as National Geographic. However, with whatever authority is used, CSA ensures clients a superior product of eminent readability and clarity.
To learn more about CSA Education’s work in copy editing, please email us at email@example.com.