Copy-editors do a lot more than just correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, style and usage. Copy-editors will read the text several times and in a work of fiction they may check for things like plot holes, consistency in characters (names, descriptions, etc.), viewpoint shifts, tense and sudden changes from first to third person, if the author hasn’t used a development editor and has asked for this to be included.
For a copy-edit, I will do the following:
- Identify spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.
- Check for consistency in spelling and hyphenation, using a style guide if one is supplied.
- Read for clarity and sense and check for inconsistencies in the text.
- Look for inconsistencies in the use of fonts, headings, paragraphs and layout.
- Check and correct uneven spacing.
- Check cross-references, and check chapter headings with the table of contents.
- Check references in the text against footnotes, endnotes, etc.
- Make sure that illustrations or tables and their captions match with each other and the text.
- In works of fiction, I will check the narrative for any inconsistencies in the plot, characters or pacing.
- Clarity and readability: I will check that your text is clear, precise and readable and suggest amendments if necessary.
- I will also check for consistency in style and content. If there is a particular house-style that you need to use, I can make sure that your work complies with it.
- Accuracy: I will check that names of people and things are all correct and, if requested by the client, can include fact-checking as well to make sure any facts in the manuscript are accurate.
- Mark any queries I cannot resolve for further consultation.
- I will produce a full report and a style-sheet on your piece of work detailing any suggestions and recommendations that I make.
Will a manuscript be error-free after a copy-edit?
Probably not although that is always the aim. It is impossible for every error to be caught in a single pass. The CIEP says: ‘A good copy-editor picks up 80% of errors and a good proofreader picks up 80% of what’s left.’ A line and copy-edit helps improve the writing as well as catch as many errors as possible.