Copyediting and editorial proofreading

The biggest misconception that most people have about these corrective methods is thinking that copyediting and editorial proofreading are the same.  While they are similar, they are also very different.

Proofreading is done after a body of work is completed, but before it goes to publication or is distributed.  It’s the final step taken in the completion of a work.  A proofreader’s job is to scan the piece for grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors. The meanings of words and terminology are not important to a proofreader.  Their main job is to focus on accuracy in a body of work that is otherwise finished and ready to go “out the door”.

While proofreaders concentrate on the final and overall presentation of the body of work, copyeditors concentrate on the details and terminology in a manuscript or draft.  They perform fact checking, question sentences that raise doubt or seem non-plausible, and ensure that there is consistency throughout the piece.  Although copyeditors don’t always implement the changes they are recommending, they always note them for the author to consider.  Like proofreaders,  they also check for  spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, but  in a text that hasn’t been formatted

There are three types of copyediting:  baseline (light), medium, and substantial (heavy).

Baseline Copyediting:

In this type of editing, you will:

  • Correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • Correct incorrect usage of words and verify cross-references
  • Make sure that spelling, grammar, capitalizations, and abbreviations are consistent
  • Make sure that lists are in the proper sequence, such as in alphabetical order
  • Make note of the first references to figures and tables
  • Check content to detect spots where copy is missing or inaccurate, such as misspellings or misuse.  You do not rewrite or add text to accomplish smoother transitions or to help with structure.

Medium Copyediting:

In this type of editing, you will do everything listed for baseline editing plus:

  • Change the text and headers for parallel structure (parallel structure is expressing similar ideas in similar ways).  The following sentence is an example of parallel structure:   She liked to dance, sing, and act. The next sentence is not parallel structure.  She liked to dance, sing and acting.
  • Make note of inappropriate figures of speech
  • Check that previews or summaries match the main content
  • Make sure the plot progresses and check for consistency in character traits and story lines (Fiction Manuscripts.)
  • Enforce style and tone throughout an entire body of work
  • Change passive voice to active voice when required
  • Make note of incorrect statements

Substantive Copyediting:

In this type of editing you will do everything listed for baseline and medium plus:

  • Improve the flow of text and contribute to the overall quality of the writing
  • Suggest actual changes rather than just pointing out problems
  • Enforce a tone if the author or publisher requests it
  • Remove wordiness
  • Make transitions smoother and rearrange sentences to make the text easier to read.
  • Suggest additions and deletions at the sentence and paragraph level
  • Participate in the actual re-writing of the text, if author and publisher agree.

Proofreading humor

This is the story of three elves:  Beatrice, the “overflowing with too many ideas,” writer, Maxie, her “details, just give me the details,” copyeditor, and Ginger, her “sharp as a tack, eyes like an eagle,” proofreader.

At one end of a very long, marble table sits Beatrice, who is just finishing a third draft of her manuscript,  “Santa’s Elves Steal Christmas, ” a.k.a  “Santa’s Elves Take Back the Night.”  She loves being a writer because she can spew out all her ideas without worrying (at least not too much), whether or not “who or whom” is being used correctly as in on page 100, which reads:

“Santa was found sleeping with whom???” asked Rudolph.

(Or should it be who???  Hmmmm. Maxie will know for sure.)

Or whether, on page 67, her mentioning that “in 1982 Santa decided to skip Christmas altogether because of  excruciating pain caused by kidney stones,” is a provable fact on wikipedia.

Or if on page 23, when she first refers to Santa’s elves as “cheap labor,” and then later, on page 50 as “aficionados” might be a problem for the reader.

No. Beatrice rests assured that her relentlessly reliable copyeditor Maxie, sitting at the middle of table, will take her manuscript and make sure that all of the above will be properly scrutinized, as well as confirming she has spelled her words correctly. (Beatrice can never remember if the word recommendation has two c’s or two m’s, but Maxie will for sure!). And when she is being emphatic, as in “Santa Skipped Christmas.”, Maxie will make sure she uses an exclamation point, and not a boring old period.

He might read a sentence that he believes doesn’t flow as in, “Mrs. C. tried to get Mr. C to lay off red meat. Mrs. C. gave him kale. He absolutely loves red meat.”  He may recommend (Is that spelled right? Better make sure I spell check before sending this off) that Beatrice change it to, “Mrs. C tried to get Mr. C to lay off red meat, which he absolutely loves. She offered him kale instead.”

But Beatrice has been know to be a bit stubborn, so we’ll see if she takes Maxie’s recommendation.

Now when Maxie is finished, the manuscript will move into the last phase of the washing cycle, the spin cycle if you will.  Ginger, who sits at the opposite end of the table, could care less if things flow or don’t flow.  She wants the manuscript to look presentable, just like her matching elfin green hat, coat and shoes. She will review the text in such a way that may seem like she is not actually reading it all, and might miss the deeper meaning of things.

“If I want deep, I’ll watch Oprah,” she says.

She will place her GIGANTIC magnifying glass over her miniscule right eye, and look for glaring punctuation problems.  She may even mark up the pages and margins using her secret agent proofreader marks (which Beatrice absolutely hates).

Ginger loves rules and wants everyone to follow them, especially Beatrice. As in, always put a comma after the adverb therefore, when a semi-colon precedes it so that the thoughts are connected.

Beatrice could care less about these rules, or any rules for that matter, which is why she has written this “tell-all tale,” about Santa, Mrs. C, and his mistress Vixen—no not the reindeer, but the woman that fourth reindeer is secretly named after.

Ginger will give it the last look over, making sure there are no glaring mistakes, and that the final, overall presentation is PERFECT. Once Ginger gives it her OK, (which doesn’t happen so easily) and Beatrice begrudgingly incorporates the changes, it’s off to the printer.  And Maxie and Ginger eagerly wait for Beatrice to deliver yet another steamy story that they can sink their elfin webbed hands into.

Proofreading Tips

Top 10 Proofreading Tips

1.    Practice, practice, practice.  Becoming proficient at proofreading doesn’t happen overnight. The more you do it, the better you will become.

2.    You’ll eventually work out a method that suits you, and that comes with time.

3.    Don’t assume you know something—if it feels off, and you are in doubt, check it, double check it, and research it. That goes for all the parts of a body of work:  facts, spelling, grammar, punctuation and layout.

4.    Take your time and read every word slowly.  Really focus on what you are saying so you can hear the words. Read out loud because you are more likely to hear if there is a mistake.

5.    Read exactly what is presented on the page, not what you assume is there out of habit. For example, the sentence may read, “I went the store.” The word to is missing, but you may not see or hear that it is missing because you assume it’s there, simply out of habit.  This skill may take awhile to really perfect, but it’s well worth practicing.

6.    Proofread the body of work more than once to ensure accuracy.

7.    Be conscious and alert.  A common error most of us make is to look at a word and not recognize it as being incorrect because we have always spelled it incorrectly.

8.    Don’t proofread when you are tired, and stop and take a break if you are beginning to feel distracted or fatigued. If you don’t, it could really affect the accuracy of your work because proofreading requires great concentration.

9.    Eliminate items from your environment that could distract or disrupt your concentration. If the phone, clock or TV is going to pull you out of the “proofreading zone,” then remove these items so you don’t even have to see them, let alone hear them. Even the slightest distraction can cause you to overlook something.

10.  Always have your style guide and style sheet accessible.

Tell me what you think your weaknesses would be as a proofreader based on errors you’ve made in proofing your own work.  For instance, I’ll often have extra spaces between sentences, I can write ‘are’ instead of ‘or’ which a spell check won’t pick up, I’ll reverse letters and my eye won’t pick it up unless I read my work aloud….

-I leave out words like to or it because my mind moves so fast when I am typing, and subsequently reading over the work. So I will be thinking the sentence correctly in my head, but will leave out a word. An example is,

“I told you to bring down the stairs.”  I left out it after bring.

-I am comma crazy. I will add commas even when one may not be required.  I add commas when I am listing items in a sentence without really knowing for sure if they are all necessary.

-Punctuation in side or outside parenthesis? That is the question.  I am not consistent with this.

-My most recent faux pas was that I sent out a newsletter to my email list regarding an event, and had the right day of the week paired with the wrong date. So instead of reading Sunday, May 4th it read Sunday, May 3rd.  I kept reading it over and over looking for spelling, grammar and layout, but never once did I check the date.

-I always spell recommend wrong.  It’s a poor habit.

-Sometimes I add one space after a period before the next sentence begins. At other times, I add two spaces. I am inconsistent with my spacing.

For the Proofreader, here’s a little humor… Read here

What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?

My love of copyediting

I love copyediting. There isn’t anything that gets me more pumped than making a text crisper, sharper and more fun to read.  I especially enjoy substantial copyediting.  I can look at a piece of writing, and “naturally” copyedit, that is, always looking to improve it through making suggestions and re-writing.  In a sense, being a substantive copyeditor is organic for me.  Even when I’m reading a published book, and something seems questionable, I take the time to research, and see if there was another way of approaching the writing.  You know, just for fun!

Heavy copyediting not only requires someone who can do what a baseline copyeditor does:  proofread and look for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation; ensure consistency and proper word usage; verify cross- references; check for correct sequencing in lists. But also, what a medium copyeditor does:  maintain parallel structure; note inappropriate figures of speech; enforce style and tone; change passive voice to active voice; and make note of incorrect statements.

Add all of the aforementioned tasks to:  improving flow, pace, structure, and actually add to the overall quality of the writing, and you have some of the criteria required to be a substantive or heavy copyeditor.

I naturally am able to combine all three of these types of copyediting because I have a sharp and patient eye for proofreading, and love to research and double check items, as well as offer real suggestions for improvement. So tasks like checking cross-references and parallel structure are a snap for me.

I copy edit my own work all the time, which includes removing excess words; moving and rearranging sentences and paragraphs so there is logic and rhythm; substituting passive verbs for active ones, which help move the action and plot forward; and making sure my characters maintain their established traits as they progress through the storyline.

Having experience, as a professional writer is helpful in being an effective, substantive copyeditor, and at Rosedove, we all do.   We understand where writers are coming from emotionally and psychologically.  We “speak the same language” and really get it, so making suggestions is something we offer with both diplomacy and clarity.

Personally, I have a keen sense of timing, like a comedian, so I look and listen for flow, consistency and style.  I am a trained actor and dancer, so I learned about rhythm and flow at a very young age, which I have now transferred into my writing and editing.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I often say I’m a “re-writer,” because in a sense, after the first draft is done, I spend more time re-writing and editing than actually writing. And I really enjoy it!  I believe having a positive attitude when re-working any piece to improve it makes the piece come out that much better.

Wanted: Copyeditor

Wanted: Copyediting & Editing Services

So your life’s dream is to work for a big newspaper or magazine in New York City.  Have you thought about copyediting? Here’s some useful tips:

1. Keep it tight and short.  Get rid of words and phrases that don’t provide important elements of the story.   If you are a long winded talker that sucks the life out of people, then most likely you write that way too, so this is not the job for you.  Remember to keep the story nice and tight, like Richard Gere’s buns circa 1985.

2. You only need to say it once.  Remove repetition.  Remove repetition. Remove repetition.  If you are prone to constantly repeating yourself, you will not become your editor’s favorite copyeditor.

3. So you are including dialogue or quotes in your article.  If the speakers have been established, there is no need to use “he said” or “she said,” over and over and over.  This is called repetitive attribution.  It’s annoying, visually unappealing, and your reader will lose interest, and want to kill you.

4. “John Pointer Smith skipped gracefully down the street, as if he had not a care in the world, stopping only to smell the fragrant roses along the way, before falling into a deep sleep due to his narcoleptic condition, and then sleepwalked out into traffic, like a zoned-out zombie, and was crushed instantly by a magenta and yellow charter bus.”   Yikes!  Cut this down!  Too many words and too many metaphors.  Try instead,  “John Pointer Smith was struck by an oncoming charter bus.”  Just the facts ma’am.  Just the facts.

5. Take the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics course so you can learn how to read the story like the Road Runner.  Not possible? Then at least learn how to scan a story so you can the gist of it quickly.  When your editor is clamoring for you to hand in your piece,      this tool will come in very handy.  Plus, all your friends will be      amazed with your ability to move your eyeballs back and forth like a typewriter. Bonus!

6. Make sure you read the story in its entirety so you understand important points before you begin to shorten it.  Don’t eliminate points for the sake of brevity, before you’ve even had a chance to let it sink into your brain and know what the reporter intended.

7.  It was like watching paint dry.  He slept like a baby.  The grass is always greener on the other side.  Sound too familiar?  That’s because we’ve all “been there done that,” with these worn out phrases.  Be an original  “straight shooter,” by sticking to the facts, and avoid these overused clichés.

8. Know your audience. Make sure you use language atypical for the region.  In NY you might say, “Give me a coke,” but in Michigan, you would ask for “pop.”  If you ask for a “hero,” in Minnesota, you may get pointed to a fire station, but in NY, you would receive a large sandwich. Don’t mix and match regional phrases.

9. Know your sources.  Do not quote someone if you don’t have his or her permission, and can back it up.  The last thing you want is to provide a situation for you publication to be sued.  You’ll most likely be fired, and never work in this town again!

10. Make sure the five W’s are covered:  who, what, where, why, and when.  If one of the W’s is gone missing, especially in a newspaper article, you must immediately put out an APB to retrieve it and get it into the article.

11. Jot down key words as you read through the story.  This helps to pin point what’s really going on, and also highlight words that would make an effective headline.  So keep that notepad right by your side.

12. So you aren’t a super whiz at math—use a calculator, or math guide to make sure figures all add up.  No one likes to see 2 + 2 = 7 in an article.

13. Know when to use your “CQ,” which does not stand for “chick quote,” but is a mark that indicates an unusual spelling has been double-checked.  Everyone will be glad you did.

14. Don’t pretend like you are not geographically challenged when you really are. Check a map when describing a site or route.  And if it really seems outrageous, go and check out the location for yourself.

15. Use of superlatives is the equivalent to stealing from an old lady.   Well, not exactly, but if you see one in a story—words like best, worst, biggest, smartest—triple check that they it is really true because most of the times it is not.

16. Never make it someone else’s job to make the story perfect—double check spelling, grammar, punctuation, facts, phone numbers (always dial that number to make sure it’s real!) and so and so on. If you rely on someone other than yourself to do the job well, you will fail miserably, and never be promoted to editor-in-chief.

Rosedove Writing offers professional editing services. Contact us for details

Read about why “I love being a copyeditor” or my parody “Writers and editors and proofreaders, oh my!”