Samples of Copyediting

Copyediting ensures that your document is considered both professional and coherent by eliminating the following:
    Misspellings (including the ones overlooked by spell-checking programs)
    Grammatical errors
    Stylistic problems, such as capitalization and punctuation issues
    Problems of usage
    Problems of parallelism
    Awkward phrasing
    Problems with references

The copyeditor’s job is to “decide which kinks or knots in someone else’s writing seem likely to disrupt communication with the intended readers and then to revise those patches as unobtrusively as possible” (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications).

Did you catch that phrase “as unobtrusively as possible”? I regard an writer’s task as putting profound thoughts onto paper, a copyeditor’s task as merely polishing, ensuring that those profound thoughts reach a reader’s mind with as little noise (clutter from inconsistencies or problems with grammar and syntax) as possible—always without revising (messing with) the writer’s authorial voice. Every writer, including the best ones, need an editor (and I need an editor as well whenever I write). But, all my markup aside, I harbor no pretension that I could have written the writer’s work myself. Still, even excellent writing, if unedited, will disappoint readers, who will unfairly disparage it because of its lack of nitpicking polishing.

Here’s what Holly Robinson, author of novels Sleeping Tigers and The Wishing Hill (as well as magazine pieces on pop culture, parenting, health, science, and psychology), has to say about copyediting:

“I crossed out ‘Tuesday’ because later you say it’s Wednesday.”

“She's fifty-nine here and fifty-eight on page 102. Which one?”

“If he Googles the land line, why is she answering the call on her cell phone?”

I’m going through the copy editor’s remarks on my new manuscript—the one that will be published by Penguin Random House as Haven Lake in April 2015. And, once again, I can’t believe all the mistakes I made in this book—even after eight or nine revisions, two of which were done in collaboration with my savvy, brilliant editor.…

[A] copy editor is someone who takes out [his] bright lamp, microscope, and fine-toothed comb. [He] nit-picks through each one of your pages, catching time transitions that don't make sense, erroneous spellings, accent marks if one of your characters happens to speak a foreign language, word repetitions, name changes or hair color changes you forgot you made, etc. In other words, the copy editor is a fierce, mistake-seeking hound, nosing around in every dark corner of every paragraph to make sure you get things right.…

[For] those of you who are self-publishing books, some advice: if you have any extra funds, do yourselves a favor and hire a copy editor. Your books—and your reputation as a writer—will be better because of it.

Now back to my manuscript and the copy editor’s bubble comments in the margin:

“It can’t be Saturday here, because you said it was a school day earlier.”

“Same words in previous sentence. Change here?”

As John Cleese of As Michael Palin of Monty Python would say, “My brain hurts.” [Here is an actual example. The correction comes from copyeditor Mark Harvey, who was one of the several copyeditors posting grateful comments in response to Robinson’s laud. He points out that after Palin’s complaint, Cleese replied: “My brain hurts, too.”] But it’s so worth it. No manuscript will ever be perfect. But, thanks to copy editors, we can get closer.

—Holly Robinson, “In Praise of Copy Editors, Publishing’s Unsung Heroes
(For another laud of copyeditors, see this one, from author Roy Peter Clark)

[Did you notice that Robinson uses the two-word copy editor in her laud, not the currently preferred single-word copyeditor (sanctioned by the publishing industry’s “bible,” the University of Chicago Manual of Style)? Allowing this discrepancy is actually another example of copyediting; we copyeditors need to leave quoted material as is. (I could have inserted the somewhat denunciatory “[sic]” with Robinson’s spelling, but I deem such a challenge distracting from her kind remarks.)]

You can see a series of copyediting samples, or you can examine any specific one from the following list of problems that copyediting resolved:

    Online samples

  1. An airborne game warden (problems with style) Fiction
  2. The wrong bridge (problems with easily verified facts) Fiction
  3. A vampire’s birthday (problems with punctuation, tense, word order, and sentence structure) Fiction
  4. Qur’anic exegesis (problems with scriptural citation, transliteration, word choice, and usage) Religion (Muslim)
  5. Person markers (problems with inconsistency, word choice, verbose phrasing, and style) Academic (linguistics)
  6. Development of the Human Genome Project (a problem with a reference) Medical
  7. Behavioral phenotype (nonconformance to APA style) Medical
  8. Positive support and intervention (more nonconformance to APA style) Medical
  9. Medical risks (an apparent contradiction) Medical
  10. References (a sloppy reference list) Medical
  11. Musical ability and Williams syndrome (little details) Medical
  12. Resources (a sloppy list of names and addresses) Medical
  13. What does it take to succeed? (problems with modifiers and referents) Popular how-to
  14. Exposition (an apparent contradiction and other problems) Screen play
  15. Hard-copy samples

  16. Installing the infrared device driver (an unresolved alias) Technical
  17. The HelpClub numbers in Europe (an untranslated list) Technical
  18. Setting the conditions for extraction (a wrong choice of words) Technical
  19. How long a battery will last (some extraneous information) Technical
  20. Keeping away from children (an ambiguous danger notice) Technical
  21. Dragging a mouse (a poor choice of words) Technical
  22. What is a browser? (another poor choice of words) Technical
  23. Starting the CE Tool test (a dangling modifier and a usage problem) Technical
  24. Installing a modem (a misleading conjunction) Technical
  25. Attaching a mouse (another misleading conjunction) Technical
  26. The ThinkPad online book (some awkward phrasing) Technical
  27. Caring for the LCD (some redundancies) Technical
  28. Assistance in your daily life (more awkward phrasing) Technical
  29. Conventions for messages in the text (a discontinuity) Technical
  30. InfoAnalyzer operation (a misplaced modifier and some word choice issues) Technical


Substantive editing samples

Résumé: Web version or PDF (printable) version