Copy editors, explained

Other terms related to copy editors: Copy editing, editor, editing, copy editor services, proofreading, proofreader, line editing

A copy editor is a highly trained professional who uses their skills and expertise to transform written work into content that’s perfect for your audience. A professional copy editor will review your writing  and make changes to strengthen the copy, make it easier to understand, ensure you’re explaining key points, and remove confusion or ambiguity.

Copy editors often work in close collaboration with writers to polish their draft into a finished piece. Writing and editing are different skills, so if you’re a writer it’s often a good idea to have an expert copy editor review and enhance your work.

For example, a doctor wishes to write an article for a health magazine. She has the right knowledge to create the article, but because she specializes in treating patients, she needs help getting her writing into good shape. A copy editor has the right expertise and experience to correct the copy and make it enjoyable and understandable. They’ll help to remove errors, ensure the article is getting the doctor’s ideas across, and create trust with the reader.

The basics of being a copy editor

A copy editor’s job includes:

  • Reading and understanding the context of the piece and the ideas and points it needs to get across.

  • Editing and completing minor rewrites to strengthen the copy and ensure it shares important information with the reader.

  • Removing jargon, ambiguity, and duplication so the piece is easy to read and doesn’t require the reader to have additional, outside information.

  • Ensuring the piece has a clear outline and flows smoothly from one section to the next, in an easily understandable way.

  • Checking for consistency and conciseness.

  • Strengthening the approach and style so that the writer’s unique tone comes through.

  • Getting the content to meet the goals intended by the writer.

Come copy editors may also offer a proofreading service that checks and correct issues with grammar, spelling, word choice, or punctuation.

Being a copy editor also means having a collaborative relationship with authors. Because the editor doesn’t normally carry out extensive rewriting, the document may get passed back and forth between the editor and author several times. A good copy editor must also have good written and verbal communication skills, meet all their deadlines, and provide excellent customer service to their clients.

Required skills for a good copy editor

Being a copy editor requires a deep understanding of language, sentence structure, context, and grammar. A copy editor needs to take a step back from the content and ask “What are the goals of this work and how can I improve the chances of meeting those goals?”

Copy editors have very strong attention to detail and can concentrate for long periods without distraction. They need to read and review content extremely thoroughly and approach everything from the audience’s perspective. Professional copy editors would normally have finished a degree in writing, journalism, communications, or a similar field.

Some copy editors are employed by content creators and publishers, while many others work as freelancers. Freelance copy editors can earn between $30 and $50 an hour, with editors in specialist niches like academia or website copy editing charging more.

Continued education is important for successful copy editing. Editors will study popular style guides like AP, AMA, or Chicago and keep up to date on the latest rules and trends as the English language evolves.

Copy editing, explained

Proofreaders, explained