What Is Copyediting?

Table of Contents

Prospective clients often ask what is included in a copyedit from me. The answer is a number of things—so many that whenever I type out my reply in an email, I wonder if I’ve missed something. So I decided to write this post to try to cover everything I check for in a fiction copyedit. The below information can also serve as a reference for what copyeditors should be providing and help authors decipher if a freelancer is qualified to edit their romance novel.

Definition of Copyediting

Before I go into a more detailed list of what’s covered in copyediting, I want to briefly define it.

Put simply, copyediting a manuscript means correcting its grammar, style, and word usage via comments and in-text suggestions.

So what does this mean on a granular level?

List of Items Checked in a Copyedit

A copyeditor uses reference materials and their own knowledge and experience to check and correct a multitude of items. I personally refer to The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, as these are the fiction industry standards. For other forms of English, I use additional dictionaries and guides, such as The Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

I run checks in Microsoft Word and then thoroughly read the manuscript and edit for the following. Note that even though I’m making an effort to include everything, this is still not an exhaustive list.

Grammar

  • Are all sentences structured clearly and correctly?
  • Do all sentences make sense?
  • Do all pronouns have antecedents?
  • Are adverbs placed as close as possible to the verbs they describe (where appropriate)?
  • Do subjects and verbs agree in number?
  • Are plurals and possessives formed correctly?
  • Are adjectives placed in the correct order?
  • Are verb tenses and moods correct and consistent?
  • Are series formed so that their structures are parallel?

Punctuation

  • Are commas, dashes, ellipses, colons, semicolons, periods, quotation marks, apostrophes, etc. used correctly and consistently?
  • Are these marks used in the ways that are easiest to understand for the reader?
  • Are they used in ways that will distract the reader, and what’s the best way to minimize these distractions but retain clarity?
  • Are punctuation marks formatted correctly—italicized where appropriate, spaced correctly, and facing the right direction?
  • Are any punctuation marks erroneously repeated (e.g. double periods, double commas)?
  • Are smart quotes, as opposed to straight quotes, used?
  • Are ellipses formatted as symbols?
  • Are spaces used correctly?

Word Usage

  • Do all words match up with the meaning intended for them?
  • Are the correct articles and prepositions used?
  • Are commonly confused words and phrases (e.g., affect vs. effect, between vs. among, each other vs. one another, that vs. which) used correctly?
  • Are unnecessary words present?
  • Are commonly repeated words—such as “that,” “just,” and “very”—removed where appropriate?

Spelling

  • Are all words spelled correctly?
  • Are all words, including names and words not found in a dictionary, spelled consistently?
  • Are all phrases and compound words spaced and punctuated correctly and consistently?

Repetition

  • Is a word, phrase, or description repeated often enough to distract the reader?
  • Does a word, phrase, or description appear multiple times in the same sentence, paragraph, scene, or chapter?
  • Do multiple sentences or paragraphs in a row start with the same word?

Formatting

  • Are italics and boldface used correctly and consistently?
  • Are headings formatted the same way?
  • Are there empty paragraphs or stray spaces that need to be removed?
  • Are page breaks present at the ends of chapters?
  • Are scene breaks denoted consistently?
  • Have all tabs been removed and replaced with indentions?
  • Are there any other hidden characters that need to be removed or replaced?

Other Issues

  • Are characters’ body parts moving independently?
  • Are characters performing actions simultaneously that they logically can’t?
  • Where applicable, are the descriptions of characters, places, etc. in the story the same throughout?
  • Are descriptions clear?

Does this list of items covered in a copyedit resonate with you? Leave a comment if there’s anything you feel I missed.

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