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50 years of success - Established 1974

50 Years of Success
Established in 1974

"Helping you gain
.control of your career"

What is Copy Editing?


The copy editor performs many different functions. The first is to check the basics of the text such as:

  • spelling – it is vital that words are spelt correctly and there’s continuity. For example, if the writer uses ‘colour’ in one instance and ‘color’ in another the copy editor should check which is preferred by the client. Misspelled words make the writing difficult to understand and, in the worst case scenario, can change the whole meaning of the text.

  • grammar – this is just as important as spelling and needs to be correct and consistent to allow the reader to fully understand the ideas the writer is trying to convey.

  • punctuation – as with grammar and spelling, poor punctuation can affect the flow of the writing. A badly placed comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

  • jargon and terminology – if jargon is used it needs to be appropriate to the topic, the intended publication and the audience who’ll be reading it.

  • semantics – it’s easy to see how important it is to ensure the right word has been used to express the intended idea.

  • formatting – this needs to be appropriate and consistent for the target publication.


Copy editors are also responsible for checking more fundamental aspects of the writing, which can include ensuring that:

  • the overall idea the writer is trying to convey is clear and easy to understand – there’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing what a piece of writing is supposed to be about.

  • the writing flows smoothly – confused writing, that jumps about erratically, is difficult to read and will often be abandoned before the reader has finished.

  • any potential legal issues are highlighted and brought to the attention of the publisher – libellous writing could cause both the writer and the publishers huge problems.

  • all factual data in the text is accurate – facts, such as placing a town in the right place, and figures, such as the population of a country will be checked for accuracy. This is especially important in non-fiction articles and business reports.

  • there is continuity in the text – for example the hero has blond hair all the way through the text.

  • the text is the correct length for the intended publication – the copy editor will sometimes be responsible for changing the length if it’s too long.


The copy editor will raise a general list of questions for the author to address if they believe it to be necessary. Copy editors may also be responsible for adding headers, headlines, footnotes and photo-captions.

In reality, the tasks a copy editor is expected to perform will vary from job to job and employer to employer. A publishing house may expect the full list of tasks detailed above to be performed, whereas a private client may only require a few.

Copy editors can be employed as staff by publishing houses but, in reality, most work on a freelance basis.

Once the copy editing process has been completed the text will be passed on to a proofreader.

If you want to learn more about copy editing and how you can become a full or part-time copy editor request a free Proofreading and Copy Editing course brochure.