Copy editors perform quality control for publications. Within the industry, they are known as "the last line of defense."
Although copy editing is concerned with style, there is no universal form for the term itself. In magazine and book publishing, it is often written as one word. The newspaper industry writes the expression as two words or hyphenates it. The terms "copy editor" has a similar division between one word or two.
The job is called "sub-editing" in the United Kingdom.
Copy editors correct mechanical errors, such as with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style, and otherwise polish the writing.
This process includes checking for factual and content errors, as well as spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. "Copy" is a journalist's term for text.
Copy editing is performed by copy editors, whose job is to read copy, look for and correct obvious errors, and question the writer concerning ambiguities and possible factual errors.
Preparation, traits and skills
Many copy editors have a college degree-- often in journalism or communications. Copy editing is often taught as a college journalism course. Although the name of the course varies. news design and pagination are often included in such classes.
The Dow Jones interns receive a couple of weeks of training before going to their newspapers.
Besides an excellent command of the language, copy editors should have broad general knowledge (to be able to suspect inaccurate information), good critical thinking skills (to spot inconsistencies), and diplomacy (mainly to deal with writers).
In the United States, mid-career training for newspaper copy editors and news editors (who supervise news copy desks) is offered at the American Press Institute, the Poynter Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and conferences of the American Copy Editors Society.
Tests and tryouts
Most U.S. newspapers and many other publishers give candidates for copy-editing jobs a test or a tryout. These vary widely. They may be timed or not, they may last an hour to a week, some are "take-home" tests. They may include questions, and usually include copy to edit. The length of the copy may be anywhere from single sentences to many articles.
Tests and tryouts may include items on:
- Associated Press style (for U.S. newspapers)
- critical thinking
- current events
- general knowledge
- headline writing (for newspapers)
- infographics editing
- news judgment
- External links
- Test question examples, compiled by the American Copy Editors Society
Copy editors also try to prevent more serious problems, such as with accuracy, clarity, fairness, logic and taste.
They also write headlines and captions, known as "cutlines" in the industry.
In the late 20th century, copy editors at many publications were given more production work because of the advent of pagination. This has expanded with the Internet.
Most copy editors work nights, weekends and holidays.
- How a copy desk operates
The copy editors write the headlines and photo captions (called "cutlines").
They correct the mechanics, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar. They check facts on varying levels. They might improve the flow, structure and clarity of the writing. They also work on big-picture problems, such as fairness, tone, libel and other material that can be offensive. And so forth. Copy editors usually call the reporter or assigning editor before making substantive changes.
They make sure the stories fit on the page, which is not an issue for Web-only publishing.
After that, the copy editor usually sends the story to what is called "the slot," which is essentially a supervising copy editor. The slot reads many stories, so can't spend much time on any of them. The slot might make some quick fixes but sends bigger problems back to the copy editor.
Then, depending on the size of the staff, page proofs are printed and read by the copy editors, and fixes are made.
After the press run starts, at least one person will look through at least the big type (display copy such as headlines) and check for any obvious problems.
The Texas Daily Newspaper Association gives the John Murphy Award for Excellence in Copy Editing. The award alternates each year between copy editors at large and small newspapers, with daily circulation of 100,000 being the dividing line.
In days before computers, most newspaper copy editors worked together at large U-shaped tables or desks. References to that era survive in the jargon terms "rim" and "slot," indicating where they sat. A senior copy editor would sit in the slot and check the work of those on the rim.
- "It's a Terrible Time To Be a Copy Editor. Or Is It?", speech by William G. Connolly
- The secret life of copy editors, by Alex Cruden
- The Slot, includes What exactly is a copy editor? and How a copy desk works, by Bill Walsh of The Washington Post
- Top Ten Reasons Why Editing is Cool, compiled by Jane Harrigan
- General and miscellaneous
Newspaper copy editing in the USA
- American Copy Editors Society
- Book: "The Art of Editing," by Floyd K. Baskette, Jack Z. Sissors and Brian S. Brooks*Freelance proofreading and copy-editing Advice (UK)
- Discussion Board from ACES
- Summer Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Tips and articles