Professional Copy Editing

Why Would I Need a Copyeditor?

“Copy editor? But my writing is perfect!”

As a professional copyeditor, I have seen many good writers. But I’ve never seen a book that was ready for publication without some level of manuscript editing. Most final drafts reek of run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, spelling errors, and you name it.

Your main focus while writing is your message. By the time you get to the self-editing stage—to improve your language, flow, and diction—you’ve seen your own writing so often, it’s hard to make any quality judgments. Did you use abbreviations consistently? Did you make the same style choices throughout your document? Did you catch all dangling modifiers?

I can offer you a sharp eye and make sure your manuscript is consistent in style, word choice, and spelling (unlike this page—I used inconsistent spelling for the sake of SEO 😉 ). I can help you catch typos, ambiguous sentences, and errors in logic and reasoning. With my help, your document will be ready for typesetting.

Copyediting vs proofreading services

Copy editing is often confused with proofreading, but there are significant differences.

Copyeditors work on your manuscript before typesetting (i.e., turning it into a book) and are free to make major changes. Copy editors make sure your manuscript is consistent in spelling, grammar, and usage, and that internal references, TOCs, captions, images, and tables are correct. Proofreaders, on the other hand, scrutinize the typeset version of your book and are limited in the kinds of changes they can make. Proofreaders perform a quality control on typesetting and check for spelling errors and typos, but will never go into complex grammar issues—by then, that ship has sailed.

Writers often hire proofreaders and then expect them to do a copyeditor’s job. Below you’ll find a description of the tasks for which you should hire a copyeditor.

#ds139 'Writer's Block'
Sometimes this is what it takes . . . The reality of manuscript editing.

Levels of copyediting

The one copyediting job is not the other. Some manuscripts need only a bit of polishing, while others need what’s known as line editing—a thorough sentence-level rewrite of your prose.

Copyediting is usually divided into three levels. These three levels are a representation of a continuum and aren’t set in stone. Before starting any job, the professional copy editor will compose an agreement about what he will and will not do.

The light copyedit — Mechanical editing and spelling

The first level of editing is mostly mechanical editing. This comprises correction of spelling, basic grammar, and inconsistencies in—for example—hyphenation, compounding, and comma usage. In a light copy edit, the copyeditor ignores (or at best queries) complex grammatical issues, word choice, and style. However awkward your sentence may be, the only criterium here is that your text is understandable and correct.

Most writers assume their manuscript needs only a light copyedit. But be sure to have a professional editor—not your spouse, mother, or neighbor—assess the editorial needs of your document. You should always assume your document needs more than anticipated.

The medium copyedit — Getting the grammar right

In this level of copyediting, the editor has some more license to make changes in the flow of the sentence—though still minimally. The copyeditor will not remove unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, and will not be bothered too much with word usage and wordiness. The stress is on grammatical correctness, and in this level of editing, the copyeditor will correct more complex grammatical issues.

The heavy copyedit — Line editing for beautiful sentences

Here we enter the domain of the line editor, where sentences turn into magic. In a heavy copyedit, the text is not only being scrutinized for errors, but also for inconsistencies in the author’s voice, style, and syntax. The copyeditor judges every sentence to determine if it can be improved by removing words, moving clauses and phrases, introducing parallelism, or implementing other stylistic conventions. In short, the line editor is involved with beautifying the language and deciding if the words the author used are fit for the job.

But sometimes, even that is not enough.

When copy editing isn’t enough — The rewriting or developmental editing level

“My book needs rewriting?”

Sometimes the problems lie not on the sentence level, but on the conceptual level. Or the author’s voice is so verbose, messy, or un-understandable that every sentence needs a total makeover. We have exited the realm of the copyeditor and entered the domain of the developmental editor.

Check the dev editing page for more information.


Niels is a talented editor who knows how to think along with the customer. He has edited some of my academic writings and I can highly recommend him to anyone wanting to see the quality of their texts rise and shine.

~ Tobias N. Strijker (Wageningen University, The Netherlands)
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(Images: 1) “Typewriter Man!” by starmanseries is licensed under CC BY 2.0; 2) “#ds139 ‘Writer’s Block'” by Sharon Drummond is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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