What is copy-editing?

Logic | Clarity | Structure | Style | Accuracy | Completeness | Consistency

Copy-editing refers broadly to making sure a piece of writing follows a logical order, not only across the document but also within sections, sub-sections and paragraphs. This definition applies to copy-editing outside of the publishing sector in which editing roles are clearly defined. Text or copy editors make sure that the correct meaning is conveyed and that the writing makes sense. It is also important that the style of writing is congruent with its purpose and that unnecessary information is removed. A medico-legal report needs to be factual, rather than emotive. An academic dissertation needs to show an understanding of theory through relevant and correct referencing and application of knowledge. A fiction novel needs to read comfortably, might evoke emotions and would be less likely to contain bullet points and sub-headings!

Copy-editing can vary in intensity. You might need help with the structure of a document (heavy copy-editing) or you may just need a final eye to make sure there aren’t any misspelled words and incorrectly used punctuation (light copy-editing, frequently referred to as proofreading). I make sure I understand your brief and that you know what to expect from me. This keeps us on the same page!


What is proofreading?

Punctuation | Grammar | Spelling | Formatting | Polishing | Quality check

Proofreading (which, outside of the publishing sector, should be called light copy-editing) takes care of what are known in the industry as mechanical errors. These include mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling. A proofreader usually receives the text after it has been edited. Proofreaders may also signal alerts to any problems in content that might have been missed in the editing stage or that could have been intruded. Proofreading finishes the final product by refining the last glitches and improving the overall quality.

Why is a proofread (light copy-edit) important?

Many people misunderstand the importance of proofreading a report or document before finalising it for distribution. Sometimes, we even undermine its value. Writing that has many errors, even if it’s too many commas or not enough full stops, can appear untidy and may be difficult to read. Incorrect grammar and punctuation can also change the meaning of a sentence. The quality of your writing says something about you as the writer and could affect how people perceive you. Poor quality can be equated to lack of competence or knowledge. My services ensure a clean, finished and well-polished piece of writing that conveys your pride, knowledge, confidence and expertise.

A note on academic copy-editing

Academic copy-editing, specifically texts for examination (research reports, dissertations, theses), should have a light copy-edit only, as the integrity of the author’s work must be maintained. See my dedicated page on academic copy-editing as it deserves a special mention. 

The editor-client relationship

Contrary to what might be believed, a copy editor’s role does not need specialisation in a specific field. A good copy editor adjusts quickly to the writing requirement at hand. They are adept at direct and regular communication with the client which usually leads to the desired outcome. Many businesses, learning institutions and professionals have set requirements for writing in terms of a style guide. This specifies what is preferred in terms of fonts, formatting,  use of upper case, lower case,  page numbering, heading styles, etc. A copy editor applies these requirements to the document while also examining content and structure. The client gets what they want and the copy editor proves their expertise by delivering what was clearly established at the outset. The relationship between the editor and the client is as important as the text needing the work.


My role as a copy editor 

My work involves writing and copy-editing medico-legal reports, as well as copy-editing a variety of other texts, including academic work,  journal articles, educational materials and online content.  I assist people with improving their CVs too. My skill in editing has been transferable, quite easily and comfortably, and the interaction between my clients and me has ensured satisfactory outcomes for everyone.

My interest in copy-editing arose out of writing medico-legal reports. I worked on raw documents which my clients gave me. My services involved editing information that had been captured by many other people for accuracy and consistency and identifying errors in punctuation, grammar, formatting and content.  The raw information I received had to be used, developed and amended in a way that made the report logical in flow but also in style. It needed to meet forensic requirements and therefore any mistakes had to be identified and corrected to save any embarrassment in court proceedings and to protect the clients being represented.

I have clients for whom I only proofread (perform a light copy-edit). These clients understand what it means for their work to be free of incorrect grammar, misspelled words and lengthy sentences that do not make sense. I recently corrected this statement: ‘I defer further omen to Dr Smith’s report.’ This is a classic example of incorrect meaning, but also highlights how easily our typing skills can be compromised by auto-correct functions. Should such a statement have reached the courts, as was intended with this document, my client would have had to explain what was meant. A light copy-edit saved potential embarrassment and preserved their credibility, and possibly that of the doctor too!

My credentials

I have completed a certificate in Copy-editing and Proofreading through the SA Writers’ College and a post-graduate certificate in Editing Principles and Practice through the Universty of Pretoria. The mentoring programme through the Professional Editors’ Guild helped me to develop myself as an editor. In addition, I remain committed to ongoing professional development by accessing training and education offered by the professional organisations to which I belong. Since 1 March 2021 I have been recognised as a PEG accredited text editor (ATE) – a fancy title which means I know what I’m doing.

Happy clients  

‘Ms Grewan is organised in her editing activities, and observes required time frames very well… she is a competent and reliable editor.’ (Karin Pampallis, Project Manager, Hidden Voices Project and Managing Editor, Global Labour Journal) 

Alexis has ‘… a keen eye for detail and a very good aptitude for copy-editing and proofreading’. (Di Smith, tutor at SA Writers’ College)

‘So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.’

Dr Seuss

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