The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
09 November 2007
Copyeditor: friend or foe?
Out in the real world, when people learn I’m a writer and copyeditor, they have no idea what the “copyeditor” half involves.
Neither do many writers, judging from the complaints I’ve heard some make about copyeditors.
No horns sprout from my head; the number “666” is nowhere tattooed on my flesh. My job is not to ruin your golden prose, but to buff it to its highest shine so that it reflects well on you.
In the "Razored Zen" blog today, Charles Gramlich argues that a writer’s primary purpose is to get his or her point across. Your copyeditor helps you do that, and more. Here’s how.
•The copyeditor puts your copy into the magazine’s house style so that usage is consistent throughout the issue. Some publications use a comma after the penultimate item in a series (lions, tigers, and bears) and some don’t (lions, tigers and bears). Some italicize species names and some don’t. Some italicize captions and some set them uppercase. Some say 98°F and some, 98 °F. Some use “Koran” and some, “Qu’ran.” English contains hundreds of acceptable style and spelling variants, and the copyeditor has to know which ones a publication uses.
•The copyeditor also makes your copy logical and internally consistent. A person’s last name should be spelled the same way each time, for example. Reference 1 should be cited before reference 2. If a word has multiple acceptable spellings or abbreviations, the copyeditor changes the text so that the same one is used each time. Variations could confuse the reader, who puzzles over the distinction the writer is making between “analog” and “analogue” or between “fluorodeoxy glucose” and “fluorodeoxyglucose.”
•The copyeditor looks for grammar, syntax, spelling, word, and math errors. Even professional writers sometimes make basic mistakes, and doctors often misspell drug and chemical names.
•The copyeditor is alert for factual errors, both definite ones that can be corrected immediately (one can be sure that the Battle of Hastings did not take place in 1966) and possible ones (for which the copyeditor may do some research, send you a query, or both).
•The copyeditor fixes other problems that might confuse readers or send them off to do a Google search. In particular, most magazines want an article on first usage to give people’s full names, spell out abbreviations and acronyms, define technical terms not familiar to the readership, tell what state or country a nonmajor city is in, and give both generic and brand names of drugs.
•At some publications, the copyeditor may take out unnecessary words that weigh down the text, unknot tangled sentences, and smooth awkward passages that could confuse a reader.
Next time you’re tempted to cuss out the copyeditor who slashed red across your pristine black-and-white pages, take another look. You’ll probably find your text is cleaner, clearer, more accurate, more consistent, and easier to read. In other words, the reader can grasp your message better. Your copyeditor may be your best friend between submission and publication.
November is author interview month at “For Love Of Words.” Look for at least two interviews with authors with newly released books in the coming weeks.