There’s a widely used recommendation that copyediting should cover ‘the 5 Cs’: making sure text is clear, concise, correct, comprehensible, and consistent.
Copyediting takes place early in the life of a text. After you’ve produced a draft, it’s important to get the input of an impartial, expert reader, to ensure the writing is fluent, easily understood, and accurate.
A copyeditor’s job is not necessarily to correct every spelling error and typo. Working with an early draft means there is an expectation that the text will develop to some extent, so proofing every word at this stage may be unnecessary.
For example, if a copyeditor suggests that a sentence, or even a paragraph, is repetitive or redundant, and so you choose to delete it, nothing is gained from having corrected spelling within that paragraph.
Copyediting could include the following:
- Correcting grammar and punctuation
- Correcting spelling
- Flagging or correcting repetition of ideas or sentence patterns
- Flagging or correcting repetitive word choice
- Removing redundant words or phrases
- Correcting awkward expression
- Correcting for fluency, tone, or readership
- Querying factual errors
- Adjusting formatting
Still, there is a lot more to the process than imposing a set of rules on your text. The best copyeditors know that their job is also to understand your intention, and to become familiar with your style of writing. As they help you craft your text, they will also work to maintain your distinct voice.
The extent of copyediting required will depend on many factors, including the confidence and competence of the writer, the rawness of the text, the purpose of the text, and requests made by the writer.
In-depth copyediting may be needed where the writer is working in English as an additional language, or where the writer is less experienced, or on a very early draft.
On the other hand, if a writer has already given the work an editing pass of their own, and the writer is experienced in evaluating their own work, copyediting will be less intensive.
However, every writer, no matter how experienced, can be blind to their own writing idiosyncrasies. Every writer can benefit from a second, knowledgeable, pair of eyes, as they develop their writing style, or gain confidence in their writing fluency.