Copy-editors do a lot more than just correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, style and usage. In a work of fiction copy-editors will 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.