What is a Copyeditor?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

None of us are perfekt. In fact, the chances are pretty good that anything written for publication will contain at least one grammatical error or erroneous statement. The task of correcting these copy mistakes falls upon an individual called a copyeditor. A copyeditor receives material from copywriters, reporters or freelance writers and uses his or her editing skills to polish it into publishable form.

A copyeditor may work for a magazine.
A copyeditor may work for a magazine.

A good copyeditor must be extremely knowledgeable in the ways of proper grammar and spelling, but the job often goes beyond basic editing. If the copyeditor works for a newspaper, for example, he or she must also understand the acceptable journalistic style favored by that particular paper. Magazines and trade journals may also have their own standards when it comes to the use of jargon or the general reading level of their subscribers. It falls on the copyeditor to make changes to the copy in order to maintain a consistent voice.

Newspaper copyeditors are usually responsible for placing finished articles onto the proper pages.
Newspaper copyeditors are usually responsible for placing finished articles onto the proper pages.

A successful copyeditor may also need to create succinct titles or suggest additional material for clarity. Quite often a newspaper copyeditor will also be responsible for placing the finished article onto the proper page, a process called pagination. An article which doesn't fit the allotted space may have to be creatively trimmed down or rewritten. It also falls on the copyeditor to be diplomatic with the copywriters whenever rewrites or serious corrections need to be made.

Copyeditors may work for scholarly journals.
Copyeditors may work for scholarly journals.

There is no one educational path leading to a career as a copyeditor. Many successful copyeditors have degrees in either journalism or English, although a strong natural command of language and grammar can also be a plus. Some copywriters for media outlets may be promoted to the position of copyeditor after years of demonstrated writing skills. Others may be hired directly by publishing companies to work as copyeditors.

It is not unusual for a copyeditor to be the only other employee to read the entire text of a submission besides the original writer. The copyeditor is expected to catch any critical grammatical or spelling errors, along with any unverified facts or potentially libelous statements. This is why many copyeditors spend hours reading and re-reading manuscripts before signing off on their readiness for publication. A copyeditor must be able to work under the pressure of deadlines, but also be able to catch even the slightest slip of the pen before 10,000 copies are sent out to bookstores or news stands everywhere.

Copyeditors may read through manuscripts for errors.
Copyeditors may read through manuscripts for errors.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@hamje32 - I won’t debate your point. I’ve heard “None of us are” and “None of us is,” but you raise a larger issue.

Sometimes the correct usage depends on the style manual or conventions that are followed by whatever publication you’re working for. The copyeditor must first and foremost become familiar with these rules and make sure that they are followed religiously.

One of the biggest eye openers for me was in the area of usage. In my AP English class we spent a whole week looking at common usage mistakes.

One common mistake is to say, “The reason is because,” instead of saying, “The reason is that.” The latter is the correct usage; the former is redundant – the word “because” already implies “the reason,” so you should drop the “because.”

If this is the kind of attention to usage and detail that you enjoy, then a copyeditor job is most certainly for you.


The lead sentence of this article, “None of us are perfekt,” is intended to make a point, but I wonder if everyone really caught the errors?

If you only pointed out the spelling error of the word “perfekt,” you would only be half right. The other error is “None of us are.” There is no subject verb agreement here; “none” is singular, but “are” is plural. It should read, "None of us is perfect."

This may seem a bit picayune and no doubt some people will think that I am splitting hairs, but this is the job of a copy editor. He or she must parse every sentence and word to make sure that it conforms to the proper rules of grammar, spelling and style.


@MissDaphne - I used to do that until I realized I was just duplicating my efforts. I didn't do it on purpose, but after I finished something, I would read it over and would wind up making all sorts of tiny changes.

I actually used to work as a freelance copyeditor in my spare time. I worked for a couple of e-book publishers. They don't pay nearly as well as more traditional jobs, but the work is more flexible and you can do it in your pajamas!


It might be useful to understand the difference between "editing" and "proofreading." A copyeditor in a newspaper or magazine does both.

Editing involves making choices for style. These could be things like paragraphs that wander around, sentences that are too long or confusing, a bad choice of words, ideas that don't come in the best order, etc.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is the little grammar stuff. Misspelled words or a wrong word used (like "nauseous" when you should have used "nauseated"), the infamous dangling participle, commas used incorrectly, etc.

The biggest mistake people make is that because proofreading is relatively easy, they want to proofread before they edit. But that doesn't make sense! There's no point carefully checking the spelling of every word in a paragraph - and then deleting it because you actually said the same things somewhere else!

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