Copy editing is usually the last stage of the review process before the written word is put into publication. It is the copy editors job to not only catch any grammar or spelling mistakes, but also to make sure the style of the text is appropriate for the context and that the facts mentioned are accurate.
In some fields, the copy editor is also responsible for the formatting and design of the text and writing any necessary display copy (e.g. headlines, photo captions, headers and footers). If something gets printed with an error, it is probably the copy editors fault because they gave the final approval on the writing.
The craft of copy editing is quite different than basic editing. Traditional editors are also responsible for grammar and spelling errors, but, unlike copy editors, they are given the liberty to rewrite content if it does not flow well or make sense. In copy editing, if something is so obscure that it needs to be redone, the copy editor usually sends it back to the original writer or editor. Instead, they focus more on the semantics of the writing.
The basic mission of a copy editor can be summed up in four simple words, which all begin with the letter C. They need to make sure the copy is:
Most people who perform copy editing have a college degree in either journalism or English. They are proficient in the language and have years of practice using it correctly. However, successful copy editors are also great critical thinkers. They can easily spot inconsistencies and lack of depth in a piece. Copy editors must also be excellent at working with people because they are constantly in contact with other editors, designers, and writers. A keen attention to detail and craving for perfection are also a must in the copy editing field. And finally, a copy editor must be disciplined because they often have to abide by strict deadlines.
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