Copyediting Tip of the Week: The Typographic Oath


I think any copyeditor who

Michael LaRocca (not verified)

I think any copyeditor who wouldn't take this oath needs to go find another career.

I've said "The customer is always right, except when you're an editor. Then he pays you to tell him all the ways he's wrong." Yeah, but do it in the helpful spirit seen here, and remember the phrase "editorial suggestions."

Posted on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 8:37am

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erin Brenner, Amy L. Scott, Subash Babu A, Michele Arduengo, Copyediting and others. Copyediting said: Copyeditors: would you take the Typographic Oath? [...]

Posted on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 8:48am

Absolutely. Where do I sign?

Jane Mackay (not verified)

Absolutely. Where do I sign?

Posted on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 7:17pm

As Jane says, Absolutely.

Karen L. Lew (not verified)

As Jane says, Absolutely. Where do I sign?

Posted on Wed, 02/16/2011 - 8:41am

Yes, I'd sign it too. It's

Frank Steele (not verified)

Yes, I'd sign it too. It's sometimes a trade-off between respecting the writer and respecting the reader, but I've seen enough editors edit the life and zest and originality out of an author's writing that I'd give the author the benefit of the doubt. Life and liveliness over "law."

Posted on Wed, 02/16/2011 - 11:16am

Disagree completely. I tell

DJ Austin (not verified)

Disagree completely. I tell people right up front I'll probably shred their work, and they can take it or leave it as they see fit. A copyedit isn't the word of God, it's a second opinion. Is it my job to make their work shine, slashing and burning as needed, or to attempt to make them touchy-feely warm inside about the mediocre? To fail to cut the crap is to do nothing worthwhile at all.

Posted on Thu, 02/17/2011 - 12:47am

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Posted on Thu, 02/17/2011 - 11:57am

DJ Austin, You must be stuck

4ndyman (not verified)

DJ Austin, You must be stuck editing some really crappy work if you have to do it with a machete.

I think you missed one part of what you wrote: A copy editor's job is to make THEIR work shine, "they" being the author, not the editor. Your job isn't to turn a Hemingway into a Hardy, an Asimov into an Austen, or a Corolla into a Cadillac. If you're doing so much hacking and slashing, I imagine that everything you edit sounds like it was written by the same person. That's just wrong.

I'm glad you didn't copy edit A Clockwork Orange, or All the Pretty Horses, or anything by Kerouac or William Burroughs or James Joyce. We'd still probably have their books, but we'd've lost their voices.

Posted on Tue, 02/22/2011 - 9:32am

Read before you edit


I'd add this commandment (or sub-commandment as it were) somewhere in your fantastic Oath:

Read Before You Edit.

In my experience, as both editor and writer, copyeditors pick up a pen in tandem with the piece of writing, ready to edit on the first word. How about giving the piece some life through reading it first, find its meaning, its soul (however poorly or well expressed), and then work to make it better through editing?

Read it first from start to finish. Okay, now edit. You can't make something better if you don't know what it says (or is trying to say). Patience is an editing virtue.

Posted on Mon, 08/13/2012 - 9:06am

Oh, yes, that would be a good

Erin Brenner

Oh, yes, that would be a good addition. I teach my copyediting students to do that. Thanks for the suggestion!

Posted on Thu, 08/16/2012 - 11:12am

The Typographic Oath


The Read First, Edit After principle should be near the top of the list because reading first gives a clearer view of the road ahead and the big picture. The only disadvantage of this approach is apparently the editing process slows down in terms of the total time taken. But the quality rises.

Posted on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 9:13am

Simply Typing's picture

Enforcing consistency

Simply Typing

As a new user of this site and a copy editor myself, I thank you for the advice you have given here.

Thank you

Posted on Wed, 10/10/2012 - 6:46am

Typographic Oath or Copyeditor's Oath?


As I have formerly worked as a typographer, your using the word typographic seems a bit odd to me. Typographic pertains more to style and arrangement of text, whereas copyediting pertains more to the choice of words and punctuation, though there are some spacing issues that a good copyeditor should probably be aware of.

Doing no harm is good to remember, but it is also good to remember that other people besides the copyeditor can do harm, and they might need to be corrected. This could be especially true in cases of possible libel (author accuses rather than alleges, etc.) or cases where a typesetter or some other production person makes an obvious style error (one word in wrong font or size or terrible text wrapping, etc.).

It is sometimes hard to know what to do when you read a copyediting authority and learn a rule and then see the rule broken almost everywhere you look. Should you uphold a standard that brings more clarity to writing or go with the crowd and ignore it? This kind of thing can bring a certain amount of tension into doing your job. You can spend what seems like too much time worrying about whether to correct or not. Sometimes I think just going ahead and making that correction for the sake of clarity is the best way to go. Ignore the crowds! But that could be a risky business.

Posted on Thu, 05/30/2013 - 8:13am

Typographic oath has problems?


Some of the rules in the oath might be contradictory in certain situations.

For example, what if the author does not seem to respect the reader or follow other parts of the oath? Then, if one was to respect the author one could not follow the oath completely. But, if one chose follow the other parts of the oath, then one would not respect the author.

Similar to the above would be what would happen if the person writing the checks did not respect the oath in some respect. Then, if one respected that person, one would not be able to comply with the rest of the oath.

For enforcing consistency, one would probably need a style sheet first or someone (the checkwriter?) to specify a copyediting resource for the job(s). This can be a confusing matter. For example, the AP style for streets and road abbreviations is different depending on whether the number of the street or road is included. You could follow the AP style and still have an apparent inconsistency in your document. I might add to the oath that the copyeditor should request a style sheet from the person writing the checks, if it is possible. A good rule could be to stick to the style sheet or manual.

Do be a search and replace editor; just do not always be a global search and replace editor. Search and replace saves time, and you CAN choose when to make a change.

Do no harm: This is a given in ANY type of work. Do not really need to include it, per my thinking. It has the same sense as do not make an error. I would substitute this rule: Query when in doubt and look it up if there is not time to query.

Posted on Mon, 08/12/2013 - 6:47am

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