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Copy editing (also copy-editing and copyediting) is the work that an editor does to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy (but not necessarily content) of a manuscript. Copy (as a noun) refers to written or typewritten text for typesetting, printing, or publication.

In the United States and Canada, an editor who does this is a copy editor, and an organization's highest-ranking copy editor, or the supervising editor of a group of copy editors, may be known as the copy chief, copy desk chief, or news editor. In book publishing in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world that follow UK nomenclature, the term copy editor is used, but in newspaper and magazine publishing, the term is sub-editor, commonly shortened to sub ("to sub" is the verb form). The senior sub-editor on a title is referred to as the chief sub-editor.

There is no universal form for expressing the work or job title. The term it is often written as one word (copyedit) or with a hyphen (copy-edit). The hyphenated form is especially common in the UK. Similarly, the term copy editor may be spelled either as one word, two words, or as a hyphenated compound term. In the U.S. newspaper field, using two words is more common.

Copy editing is done before the work of proofreaders, who handle documents before final publication.


The "five Cs" summarize the copy editor's job: Make the copy (i) clear, (ii) correct, (iii) concise, (iv) comprehensible, and (v) consistent; that is: Make it say what it means, and mean what it says.

Typically, copy editing involves correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar, mathematics, terminology and jargon, timelines, and semantics; ensuring that the typescript adheres to the publisher's style; and adding headlines and standardized headers, footers.

The copy editor is expected to ensure that the text flows, that it is sensible, fair, and accurate, and that any legal problems have been addressed. Some newspaper copy editors select stories from 's wire copy.

Newspaper copy editors are considered the newspaper's last line of defense.

Sometimes, the copy editor is the only person, other than the writer, to read an entire text before publication.

A copy editor may shorten the text, to improve it or to fit length limits. This is particularly so in periodical publishing, where copy must be cut to fit the layout, and the text changed to make it ensure there are no 'short lines'.

Changes in the field Edit

Traditionally, the copy editor would read a printed or written manuscript, manually marking it with editor's correction marks. Today, the manuscript is more often read on a computer display and corrections are entered directly.

The rise of desktop publishing means that many copy editors do design and layout work that once was the province of design production crews in print publications. As a result, the skills needed for editing copy have shifted: Technical knowledge is sometimes considered as important as writing ability, though this is more true in journalism than it is in book publishing. With the transformation of journalism in recent years, some news organizations are lowering the emphasis on editing, though at the expense of copy quality. [1]. Hank Glamann, co-founder of the American Copy Editors Society, made the following observation about recent ads for copy editor positions at American newspapers:

We want them to be skilled grammarians and wordsmiths and write bright and engaging headlines and must know Quark. But, often, when push comes to shove, we will let every single one of those requirements slide except the last one, because you have to know that in order to push the button at the appointed time.[2]

Traits, skills, and trainingEdit

Besides an excellent command of language, copy editors need broad general knowledge for spotting factual errors, good critical thinking skills in order to recognize inconsistencies, interpersonal skills for dealing with writers and other editors, attention to detail, and a sense of style. Also, they must establish priorities and balance a desire for perfection with the necessity to follow deadlines.

Many copy editors have a college degree, often in journalism, English, or communications. In the United States, copy editing often is taught as a college journalism course, though its name varies. The courses often include news design and pagination.

In the United States, The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund sponsors internships that include two weeks of training. Also, the American Press Institute, the Poynter Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UC San Diego Extension and conferences of the American Copy Editors Society offer mid-career training for newspaper copy editors and news editors (news copy desk supervisors).

Most U.S. newspapers and publishers give copy-editing job candidates an editing test or a tryout. These vary widely and can include general items such as acronyms, current events, math, punctuation, and skills such as the use of Associated Press style, headline writing, infographics editing, and journalism ethics.

In both the U.S. and the U.K., there are no official bodies offering a single recognized qualification.

In the U.K., several companies provide a range of courses unofficially recognised within the industry. Training may be on the job or through publishing courses, privately run seminars, and correspondence courses of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The National Council for the Training of Journalists also has a qualification for subeditors.

Jobs for copy editorsEdit

Copy editors work in a wide variety of fields —- anywhere there is text. In academia, they may work for journals, universities, or independent academic clients. In publishing, they may work for newspapers, magazines, journals, book publishers, websites, online publishers, or individual writers. In the business and nonprofit worlds, they can work as independent contractors freelancing for a variety of clients, at the clients' offices or working from their own, or serve as partners or employees in specialized copywriting agencies that serve general business or nonprofit clients, or clients in specific industries such as technology, medicine, engineering, or the arts.

See alsoEdit


  1. In a National Public Radio broadcast at 5:30pmCST, 26 July 2009.
  2. Workshop: Keeping your copy editors happy. The American Society of Newspaper Editors. URL accessed on 2 January 2009.


  • The Art of Editing, by Floyd K. Baskette, Jack Z. Sissors, and Brian S. Brooks.
  • Butcher, Judith; Drake, Caroline; Leach, Maureen (2006), Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders (4 ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521847131 

External links Edit

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Wiktionary: Copy editing

Newspaper copy editing
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