As copyeditors, we know our job includes correcting grammar, usage, and the like. We identify inconsistencies and logic problems. We may do other tasks related to copyediting, such as checking facts or prepping a manuscript for publication.
But our supervisors and clients don’t always understand what copyediting is and how it differs from other types of editing. We need to educate ourselves on other editorial functions so that we can guide those who would employ us.
In part one, I defined developmental and line editing. Today, I’ll look at proofreading and fact checking.
Despite proofreading having an unrelated name, it is probably the editing task most often confused with copyediting. I can’t count how many potential clients and ads have asked for a proofread when what was really desired was a copyedit.
Proofreading is comparing the latest (live) version of a manuscript with the previous (dead) version. Proofreaders ensure all the noted corrections on the dead copy have been made in the live copy and that grammar, usage, and style rules are being followed.
They also ensure that design elements, such as fonts, margins, and colors, are in order. I started my career as a proofreader of direct mail (a.k.a., junk mail), and one of the most important tasks I had was ensuring that the letter, reply slip, and reply envelope all fit in the outer envelope.
When you’re asked to proofread a manuscript without a previous version, you’re doing a cold or editorial proofread. In that case, the emphasis is on one last check of grammar, usage, style, and design issues.
As you might imagine, fact checking is checking basic and sometimes not-so-basic facts in a manuscript, such as names, titles, phone numbers, URLs, and dates. This is, however, another category of publishing that is being folded into copyediting.
There are still publications, such as The New Yorker, that employ fact checkers and books that have their facts checked in a separate editing pass. I worked on one edition of Get a Financial Life as a fact checker, but that’s been my only fact-checking project to date in nearly 20 years of working. On the other hand, I’ve checked facts as part of the copyediting process my entire career.
What Kind of Editor Are You?
While certain types of editing are being folded into others, all of the work still needs to be done to ensure a quality publication. Skip a step, and you’ll see poorer results.
There are two real problems facing copyeditors:
- Supervisors, clients, and authors are sometimes ignorant of the various types of editing and, on occasion, of the publishing process as a whole.
- Titles and duties are often misaligned.
As a copyeditor, you should discuss with your supervisor or client what type of edits are wanted and whether you are the person to do them. Be specific about the duties. Ask questions like: Do you want me to check grammar and spelling? Do you want me to edit the argument for completeness?
If you’re clear about the duties, the titles matter less. Especially for employees, titles are often not something you can control. HR or upper management decides them based on such concerns as how others (read: those with clout) will react to them, how they fit with the rest of the organization’s flowchart, and so on. If you can influence your title to be something that accurately describes what you do, go for it. Otherwise, be prepared to explain your duties on your resumé.
For my clients, I don’t worry much about labeling the types of editing unless I’m distinguishing the difference between the duties and costs of each, although I do post definitions on my website. Instead, I will give a detailed list of what I will edit for. The client is free to negotiate the list and doesn’t have to learn all the industry jargon to do so.
What other types of text editing are you familiar with? Share them in the comments!