Confusion abounds regarding the different types of editing available, and there’s no shame in that. Even among editors, the terms and definitions can vary slightly.
“Copy editing” (other terms you may see include “mechanical” editing or “line” editing) is basically going through a manuscript and making sure that the text (and any references, tables, figures, and so on) adheres to the desired style.
A style is a set of rules about how to handle things like punctuation, capitalization, spelling, abbreviations, numbers, references, etc. The guide that is primarily used for books is The Chicago Manual of Style. News publications usually follow the AP Stylebook. Journals have their own style guides (APA and AMA are two common ones). Institutions, non-profits, and other organizations often have their own “in-house” style that may be a variation of one of these others.
Of course, copy editing also pays close attention to correcting grammar and syntax, suggests corrections or changes to make the text clear and concise, and improves readability.
Copy editing may be further broken down into light, medium, or heavy copy editing. Beyond the mechanical corrections and application of style, a light edit will also do such things as:
- point out sentences or paragraphs that are wordy or confusing, but not revise them
- point out or query anything that seems incorrect in some way
- query any terms that may be unfamiliar to readers
A medium edit will do the above, plus:
- point out wordy or confusing sections and suggest revisions or clarifications
- supply or ask for definitions of any confusing terms
- query anything else that is not clear
A heavy edit (some call this a “substantive” edit) will do the above, plus:
- rewrite wordy sentences or paragraphs and eliminate repeated phrases or words
- correct word choice as needed. Is it “disburse” or “disperse”? “Phased” or “fazed”?
- ensure sentences, paragraphs, and ideas flow logically from one to the next
- improve readability
Always, whether the text needs light, medium, or heavy copy editing, the editor should work to maintain the author’s voice.
Editors may also point out factual errors, if they recognize them, however, authors are ultimately responsible for the factual accuracy of their manuscript. No editor can be a subject matter expert in all fields, and in fact, they do not need to be. Our expertise and talents lie in helping you present your material in a correct, clear, concise, and readable condition, according to the style that you have decided is appropriate.
What I do
Working (preferably) in Microsoft Word, I will use the “track changes” and “comments” features to make corrections and queries in the document. I will save the document with a new file name, with the track changes/commenting turned “on” so that you will be able to see the changes when you open the file. I can also, if you wish, send a clean copy with all changes accepted. If you have a different file format you prefer to work in, let me know and I will do my best to accommodate you.
For larger documents, I will also return a style sheet, summarizing decisions made about things like hyphenation, capitalization, and spelling.
Still not sure?
If you aren’t sure what level of editing help you need, that’s OK. I can review your manuscript quickly and let you know what I think, and we can discuss it further. If you want to send just a portion, rather than the whole document, it’s best to send me a section from the middle. Usually, the first few pages or first chapter, and sometimes the closing chapter as well, will have been given the most attention by an author, and may not accurately represent the document as a whole. Sending something from the “messy middle” will give me a much better idea of the overall state of the manuscript.