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The Copyeditor's Handbook is a lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft. Addressed to copyeditors in book publishing and corporate communications, this thoughtful handbook explains what copyeditors do, what they look for when they edit a manuscript, and how they develop the editorial judgment needed to make sound decisions.
This revised edition reflects the most recent editions of The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.), the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.), and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).
Copyeditors always serve the needs of three constituencies:
the author(s)-the person (or people) who wrote or compiled the manuscript the publisher-the person or company that is paying the cost of producing the printed material the readers-the people for whom the material is being produced
All these parties share one basic desire: an error-free publication. To that end, the copyeditor acts as the author's second pair of eyes, pointing out-and usually correcting-mechanical errors and inconsistencies; errors or infelicities of grammar, usage, and syntax; and errors or inconsistencies in content. If you like alliterative mnemonic devices, you can conceive of a copyeditor's chief concerns as comprising the "4 Cs"-clarity, coherency, consistency, and correctness-in service of the "Cardinal C": communication.
Certain projects require the copyeditor to serve as more than a second set of eyes. Heavier intervention may be needed, for example, when the author does not have native or near-native fluency in English, when the author is a professional or a technical expert writing for a lay audience, or when the author has not been careful in preparing the manuscript.
Sometimes, too, copyeditors find themselves juggling the conflicting needs and desires of their constituencies. For example, the author may feel that the manuscriptrequires no more than a quick read-through to correct a handful of typographical errors, while the publisher, believing that a firmer hand would benefit the final product, instructs the copyeditor to prune verbose passages. Or a budget-conscious publisher may ask the copyeditor to attend to only the most egregious errors, while the author is hoping for a conscientious sentence-by-sentence polishing of the text.
Copyeditors who work for publishers are usually given general instructions about how light or heavy a hand the text is thought to need. But no one looks over the copyeditor's shoulder, giving detailed advice about how much or how little to do. Publishing professionals use the term editorial judgment to denote a copyeditor's intuition and instincts about when to intervene, when to leave well enough alone, and when to ask the author to rework a sentence or a paragraph. In addition to having a good eye and ear for language, copyeditors must develop a sixth sense about how much effort, and what kind of effort, to put into each project that crosses their desk.
In the pre-computer era, copyeditors used pencils or pens and marked their changes and questions on a typewritten manuscript. Today, some copyeditors still work on hard copy, but many sit at a computer and key in their work-a process variously called on-screen editing, electronic manuscript (EMS) editing, online editing, or editing on disk. Regardless of the medium, though, a copyeditor must read the document letter by letter, word by word, with excruciating care and attentiveness. In many ways, being a copyeditor is like sitting for an English exam that never ends: At every moment, your knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, syntax, and diction is being tested.
You're not expected to be perfect, though. Every copyeditor misses errors here and there. But do respect the four commandments of copyediting:
Thou shalt not lose or damage part of a manuscript. Thou shalt not introduce an error into a text that is correct. (As in other areas of life, in copyediting an act of commission is more serious than an act of omission.) Thou shalt not inadvertently change the author's meaning. Thou shalt not miss a critical deadline.
Copyediting is one step in the process by which a manuscript is turned into a final published product (e.g., a book, an annual corporate report, a newsletter). Here, we will quickly survey the copyeditor's six principal tasks; the procedures and conventions for executing these tasks are described in the chapters that follow.
1. MECHANICAL EDITING
The heart of copyediting consists of making a manuscript conform to an editorial style (also called house style). Editorial style includes
spelling hyphenation capitalization punctuation treatment of numbers and numerals treatment of quotations use of abbreviations and acronyms use of italics and bold type treatment of special elements (headings, lists, tables, charts, and graphs) format of footnotes or endnotes and other documentation
Mechanical editing comprises all editorial interventions made to ensure conformity to house style. There is nothing mechanical, however, about mechanical editing; it requires a sharp eye, a solid grasp of a wide range of conventions, and good judgment. The mistake most frequently made by novice copyeditors is to rewrite portions of a text (for better or for worse, depending on the copyeditor's writing skills) and to ignore such "minor details" as capitalization, punctuation, and hyphenation. Wrong! Whatever else you are asked to do, you are expected to repair any mechanical inconsistencies in the manuscript.
For an example of the differences purely mechanical editing can make in the look and feel-but not the meaning-of a document, compare these selections from articles that appeared on the same day in the New York Times and the San Francisco Examiner.
New York Times February 22, 1987 TARGET QADDAFI By Seymour M. Hersh
Eighteen American warplanes set out from Lakenheath Air Base in England last April 14 to begin a 14-hour, 5,400-mile round-trip flight to Tripoli, Libya. It is now clear that nine of those Air Force F-111's had an unprecedented peacetime mission. Their targets: Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family....
Since early 1981, the Central Intelligence Agency had been encouraging and abetting Libyan exile groups and foreign governments, especially those of Egypt and France, in their efforts to stage a coup d'etat.... Now the supersonic Air Force F-111's were ordered to accomplish what the C.I.A. could not.
San Francisco Examiner February 22, 1987 TARGET GADHAFI By Seymour M. Hersh
Eighteen U.S. warplanes set out from Lakenheath Air Base in England last April 14 to begin a 14-hour, 5,400-mile round-trip flight to Tripoli, Libya. It is now clear that nine of those Air Force F-111s had an unprecedented peacetime mission. Their targets: Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his family....
Since early 1981, the CIA had been encouraging and abetting Libyan exile groups and foreign governments, especially those of Egypt and France, in their efforts to stage a coup d'etat.... Now the supersonic Air Force F-111s were ordered to accomplish what the CIA could not.
Which is correct? (Or which is "more correct"?): American warplanes or U.S. warplanes? Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi or Col. Moammar Gadhafi? F-111's or F-111s? coup d'etat or coup d'etat? C.I.A. or CIA? In each case, it is not a matter of correctness per se but of preference, and the sum total of such preferences constitutes an editorial style. A copyeditor's job is to ensure that the manuscript conforms to the publisher's editorial style; if the publisher does not have a house style, the copyeditor must make sure that the author has been consistent in selecting among acceptable variants.
At book publishing firms, scholarly journals, newspapers, and magazines, a house style is generated by having all copyeditors use the same dictionary and the same style manual (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style, Words into Type, The Associated Press Stylebook, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). In contrast, companies that produce documents, reports, brochures, catalogs, or newsletters but do not consider themselves to be bona fide publishers often rely on in-house style guides, on general lists of do's and don'ts, or on the judgments and preferences of copyeditors and editorial coordinators.
2. CORRELATING PARTS
Unless the manuscript is very short and simple, the copyeditor must devote special attention to correlating the parts of the manuscript. Such tasks include
verifying any cross-references that appear in the text checking the numbering of footnotes, endnotes, tables, and illustrations specifying the placement of tables and illustrations checking the content of the illustrations against the captions and against the text reading the list of illustrations against the illustrations and against the captions reading the table of contents against the manuscript reading the footnotes or endnotes against the bibliography
Some types of texts require special cross-checking. For example, in cookbooks the list of ingredients that precedes a recipe must be read against the recipe: Is every ingredient in the initial list used in the recipe? Does every ingredient used in the recipe appear in the list of ingredients? Similarly, when copyediting other kinds of how-to texts, one may need to check whether the list of equipment or parts matches the instructions.
3. LANGUAGE EDITING: GRAMMAR, USAGE, AND DICTION
Copyeditors also correct-or ask the author to correct-errors or lapses in grammar, syntax, usage, and diction. Ideally, copyeditors set right whatever is incorrect, unidiomatic, confusing, ambiguous, or inappropriate without attempting to impose their stylistic preferences or prejudices on the author.
The "rules" for language editing are far more subjective than those for mechanical editing. Most copyeditors come to trust a small set of usage books and then to rely on their own judgment when the books fail to illuminate a particular issue or offer conflicting recommendations. Indeed, the "correct" usage choice may vary from manuscript to manuscript, depending on the publisher's house style, the conventions in the author's field, and the expectations of the intended audience.
A small example: Most copyeditors who work for academic presses and scholarly journals are taught to treat data as a plural noun: "The data for 1999 are not available." But copyeditors in corporate communications departments are often expected to treat data as a singular noun: "The data for 1999 is not available." Moreover, a corporate copyeditor is likely to accept 1999 as an adjective and to favor contractions: "The 1999 data isn't available."
A second example: Between the 1960s and the late 1980s, many prominent usage experts denounced hopefully as a sentence adverb, and copyeditors were instructed to revise "Hopefully, the crisis will end soon" to read "It is to be hoped that the crisis will end soon." Almost all members of the anti-hopefully faction have since recanted, though some people, unaware that the battle has ended, continue what they believe to be the good fight.
The history of the hopefully controversy serves as a reminder that there are fads and fashions, crotchets and crazes, in that cultural creation known as grammar. For copyeditors who work on corporate publications, a solid grasp of current fashion is usually sufficient. But an understanding of current conventions alone will not do for copyeditors who work on manuscripts written by scholars, professional writers, and other creative and literary authors. To succeed on these types of projects, the copyeditor needs to learn something about the history of usage controversies:
[A copyeditor] should know the old and outmoded usages as well as those that are current, for not all authors have current ideas-some, indeed, seem bent upon perpetuating the most unreasonable regulations that were obsolescent fifty years ago. Yet too great stress upon rules-upon "correctness"-is perilous. If the worst disease in copyediting is arrogance [toward authors], the second worst is rigidity.
In all these matters, then, copyeditors must strive to strike a balance between being overly permissive and overly pedantic. Copyeditors are expected to correct (or ask the author to correct) locutions that are likely to confuse, distract, or disturb readers, but copyeditors are not hired for the purpose of imposing their own taste and sense of style on the author. Thus when reading a manuscript, the copyeditor must ask, "Is this sentence acceptable as the author has written it?" The issue is not "If I were the writer, would I have written it some other way?"
4. CONTENT EDITING
Copyeditors are expected to call to the author's attention any internal inconsistencies or discrepancies in content as well as any structural and organizational problems. On some projects you may be asked to fix these kinds of problems by doing heavy editing or rewriting. More often, though, you will be instructed to point out the difficulty and ask the author to resolve it.
Copyeditors are not responsible for the factual correctness of a manuscript, but you are expected to offer a polite query about factual statements that you know to be incorrect.
Manuscript: The documents arrived on February 29, 1985.
Copyeditor's query: Please check date-1985 not a leap year. Manuscript: Along the Kentucky-Alabama border ...
Copyeditor's query: Please fix-Kentucky and Alabama are not contiguous. Manuscript: During the Vietnam War, the most divisive in American history, ...
Copyeditor's query: Accurate to imply that Vietnam was more divisive than the Civil War?
If you have some knowledge of the subject matter, you may be able to catch an error that would go unquestioned by a copyeditor who is unfamiliar with the subject. Such catches will be greatly appreciated by the author, but only if you can identify the errors without posing dozens of extraneous questions about items that are correct.
Another misdeed you must guard against is inadvertently changing the author's meaning while you are repairing a grammatical error or tidying up a verbose passage. And it is never acceptable to alter the author's meaning simply because you disagree with the author or believe that the author could not have meant what he or she said. Whenever the content is unclear or confusing, the copyeditor's recourse is to point out the difficulty and ask the author to resolve it.
Most publishers also expect their copyeditors to help authors avoid sexism and other forms of biased language. This is a relatively new convention in publishing and, as the ongoing debate over "political correctness" demonstrates, the terms of this convention are still in flux. In addition, copyeditors call the author's attention to any material (text or illustrations) that might form the basis for a lawsuit alleging libel, invasion of privacy, or obscenity.
If the manuscript contains lengthy quotations from a published work that is still under copyright, the copyeditor is expected to remind the author to obtain permission to reprint the quotations. Permission is also needed to reprint tables, charts, graphs, and illustrations that have appeared in print. Special rules pertain to the reproduction of unpublished materials (e.g., diaries, letters).
Copyeditors may be asked to typecode the manuscript, that is, to identify those portions of the manuscript that are not regular running text. These pieces of text, called elements, include part and chapter numbers, titles, and subtitles; headings and subheadings; lists, extracts, and displayed equations; table numbers, titles, source lines, and footnotes; and figure numbers and figure captions.
Copyeditors working on hard copy are usually asked to pencil in the typecodes in the left margin of the manuscript. Copyeditors working on-screen may be asked to insert typecodes at the beginning and end of each element.
WHAT COPYEDITORS DO NOT DO
Given that there is no consensus about how to spell copyediting, it is not surprising that the meaning of the term is somewhat unsettled. In the world beyond book and journal publishing, copyediting is sometimes loosely applied to cover a range of editorial tasks. For clarity's sake, the following distinctions are worth preserving:
Copyeditors are not proofreaders. Although many copyeditors are good proofreaders, and all copyeditors are expected to catch typographical errors, copyediting and proofreading are two different functions. Copyeditors work on an author's manuscript and are concerned with imposing mechanical consistency; correcting infelicities of grammar, usage, and diction; and querying internal inconsistencies of fact or tone. Proofreaders, in contrast, are charged with correcting errors introduced during the typesetting, formatting, or file conversion of the final document and with identifying any serious errors that were not caught during copyediting.
Excerpted from THE COPYEDITOR'S HANDBOOK by Amy Eisohn Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Part I. The ABCs of Copyediting
1. What Copyeditors Do
2. Basic Procedures
3. Reference Books and Resources
Part II. Editorial Style
5. Spelling and Hyphenation
7. Numbers and Numerals
9. Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Symbols
10. Tables, Graphs, and Art
12. Front and Back Matter
Part III. Language Editing
14. Grammar: Principles and Pitfalls
15. Beyond Grammar
Checklist of Editorial Preferences
Glossary of Copyediting Terms
Glossary of Grammar Terms
Posted July 3, 2008
The Copyeditor's Handbook gives solid advice for writers, copyeditors, and proofreaders. The writing is balanced and unbiased, and careful attention is given to key variations among leading style guides. Einsohn's even hand makes the book a pleasure to read from cover to cover, even for those with years of copyediting experience. The book handles practically every important aspect of copyediting for newcomers and experienced professionals alike. Best of all, the book practices what it preaches. The Copyeditor's Handbook is one of the best edited publications I've read in the writing, copyediting, usage, and style genre.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2002
The book is very practical and clear. The book's best quality is that it contains exercises with answer keys in the back. It is a very helpful book (especially for beginners), and it is not as difficult to read as CMS.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.