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Cambridge University Press
Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders / Edition 4

Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders / Edition 4


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Since its first publication in 1975, Judith Butcher's Copy-editing has become firmly established as a classic reference guide. This fourth edition has been comprehensively revised to provide an up-to-date and clearly presented source of information for all those involved in preparing typescripts and illustrations for publication. From the basics of how to prepare text and illustrations for the designer and typesetter, through the ground rules of house style, to how to read and correct proofs, Copy-editing covers all aspects of the editorial process. New and revised features: • up-to-date advice on indexes, inclusive language, reference systems and preliminary pages • a chapter devoted to on-screen copy-editing • guidance on digital coding and publishing in other media such as e-books • updated to take account of modern typesetting and printing technology • an expanded section on law books • an essential tool for new and experienced copy-editors, working freelance or in-house.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521847131
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 10/12/2006
Edition description: Fully Revised and Updated
Pages: 558
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.09(h) x 1.18(d)

About the Author

Judith Butcher has a wealth of editorial experience, gained first at Penguin Books, then at Cambridge University Press, where she was head of the copy-editing department. She is Honorary President of the SfEP.

Caroline Drake worked for publishers in London, Berlin and Oxford before joining Cambridge University Press in 1989. In 2005 she began to edit, write and train copy-editors on a freelance basis.

Maureen Leach worked at Cambridge University Press from 1973 until 2001, running the humanities and social sciences copy-editorial department from 1985. She now works as a freelance editor, copy-editor and proofreader.

Read an Excerpt

Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-84713-1 - Butcher’s Copy-Editing - The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders - by Judith Butcher, Caroline Drake and Maureen Leachw

1. Introduction



The main aims of copy-editing are to remove any obstacles between the reader and what the author wants to convey and to find and solve any problems before the book goes to the typesetter, so that production can go ahead without interruption or unnecessary expense. You might think that there is less need for copy-editing now that authors can use computer software to check spelling and even grammar: why can’t the author simply provide the typesetter with a formatted, spell-checked file to turn into a book? Although a computer is a useful tool for the copy-editor, it cannot read for sense, repetition or ambiguity. It will not pick up libel, errors of fact or misleading or potentially dangerous information. The copy-editor is the reader’s advocate and the author’s ambassador, and in this electronic age has a more pivotal role than ever before in guiding the book through the complexities of the production process.

   The majority of copy-editors these days are freelances, working for a variety of different clients, and often to a fixed budget and schedule. Publishers increasingly expectcopy-editors to have the good judgement to be able to strike a balance between quality, cost and time. Different publishers work in different ways, according to the kinds of material they publish. However, common to all types of publication and all methods of production is the value that a good copy-editor can add to the author’s work by ensuring that, within the inevitable budgetary and time constraints, the work is presented to its readership in the best possible form.

   There are various kinds of editing.


   Substantive editing aims to improve the overall coverage and presentation of a piece of writing, its content, scope, length, level and organization. The editor may suggest improvements for the author to make, or may (by agreement with the author) rewrite and rearrange the material, suggest better illustrations, and so on. The editor at this stage will normally look out for legal problems such as libel and plagiarism and for any quotations or illustrations that may need permission from the copyright owner.


   Detailed editing for sense is concerned with whether each section expresses the author’s meaning clearly, without gaps and contradictions. It involves looking at each sentence, the author’s choice of words, the punctuation, the use of abbreviations, comparing the data in tables with the relevant text, checking text against the illustrations and their captions, and so on. The editor should ensure that appropriate acknowledgement has been made for quotations or illustrations that need permission from the copyright owner, and will also look out for other legal problems.


   Checking for consistency is a mechanical but important task. It may be done at the same time as 2. It involves checking such things as spelling and the use of single or double quotes (see section ), either according to a house style or according to the author’s own style; checking the numbering of illustrations, tables and notes, and any cross-references to them, and also the consistency of bibliographical references.

   ‘Copy-editing’ usually consists of 2 and 3, plus 4 below.


   Clear presentation of the material for the typesetter involves making sure that it is complete and that all the parts are clearly identified: for example, the grade of each subheading, which pieces of text (such as long quotations) should be distinguished typographically from the main text, and where tables and illustrations should be placed. Some publishers might also ask the copy-editor to size the illustrations, mark type sizes, and so on, although this is relatively uncommon.

The same person may do all four of these things, or they may be split in various ways. Those who do the substantive editing may be called editor, commissioning editor, project editor, journal editor or development editor; those who carry out the jobs in categories 2–4 may be called editor, desk editor, production editor, subeditor or copy-editor. For the sake of simplicity throughout this book we call the latter copy-editors, and the people who brief them commissioning editors.

1.1.1 The copy-editor’s role

When the first edition of this book was published, most books followed a clearly defined route through production to publication. The electronic revolution in publishing has changed a lot of things since then, and a book’s journey from the author•s mind to the printed page can follow many different routes. Most publishers are now concerned not simply with print as the finished product but also with the electronic life of a book in the form of e-books, web pages or CD-ROMs, and this influences their choice of production method and the copy-editor’s part in the publication process.

   This book is concerned primarily with the copy-editor’s role in the transformation of the author’s ideas from ‘copy’ (the raw material of typescript and electronic files) to the printed page; but today’s copy-editors need to be well informed about the publisher’s production methods and intentions for the finished product, and to be adaptable to the publisher’s requirements.

   In book publishing, copy-editors may be involved at three stages.

•   The typescript should be looked at soon after the book has been accepted for publication, to identify any recurring faults of consistency, style or layout that the author could be asked to correct before copy-editing starts. There might be other general changes that the author should be asked to approve in advance (see pp. 33–6). This preliminary check might be carried out by the copy-editor or an in-house project editor or editorial assistant. At this stage the copy-editor could brief the designer and the production department on any complications to be taken into account in designing the book and planning its production, and could do some mark-up and prepare a brief for specimen pages, if required (see chapter 2).

•   At the main copy-editing stage, the copy-editor works through the typescript and illustrations in detail (see chapters 3 and 4), reading for sense and checking for style and consistency, and ensuring that the author’s intentions are clearly conveyed to the publisher and vice versa.

•   At proof stage the copy-editor may read a proof (although many publishers prefer this to be done by a fresh pair of eyes) or collate the author’s proof with the proofreader’s, ensuring that the author’s amendments are comprehensible and consistent with the existing material, and that they can be incorporated without great difficulty or expense. The copy-editor ensures that any additional material, such as an index, is well organized and consistent (see chapters 5 and 8), and might be asked by the publisher to see that the cost of corrections is allocated fairly between author, typesetter and publisher through the use of colour coding (see section ).

The good copy-editor is a rare creature: an intelligent reader and a tactful and sensitive critic; someone who cares enough about perfection of detail to spend time checking small points of consistency in someone else’s work but has the good judgement not to waste time or antagonize the author by making unnecessary changes.

   Copy-editors need not be experts on the subject of the work, but they must be able to interest themselves in it in order to try to put themselves in the position of the intended readers. Authors are so familiar with their subject, and may have written a book over so long a period, that they cannot see it as it will appear to someone else; and the copy-editor will often see where an author has been repetitious or ambiguous, has omitted a step in the argument or failed to explain a point clearly.

   Although the copy-editor’s main interest is likely to be an editorial one, the job involves production considerations too. Knowing the book in detail, the copy-editor can make the author’s intentions clear to the designer and typesetter; and realizing the constraints within which the typesetter has to work, can explain to authors why it may be impossible to carry out their wishes in exactly the way they propose. It is this joint role that gives the job its fascination.

1.1.2  A note about terminology

This book takes as its model the most complicated kind of publication, where the design and house style are not standardized and the copy-editor has to make decisions about stylistic conventions and obtain advice on points of design. We have written as though the copy-editor will, at different stages in the production process, come into contact with the commissioning editor, a designer and the production department. Copy-editors who have a good understanding of what has happened to the typescript before it reached them, and what will happen to it after it has left their hands, are able to fulfil their own role most effectively. However, for many freelance copy-editors the only publishing contact will be the desk editor, managing editor or production editor who gives them the work. When we say ‘ask the designer’ we mean that you should ask someone who has the necessary technical knowledge, if you do not have it yourself. Many publishers outsource design, as well as copy-editing, to freelances; if there is no in-house designer responsible for the project, the publisher should be able to put you in touch with the freelance.

   We use the word ‘typescript’ to describe the material that the copy-editor works on, whether it is a hard-copy printout, typewriter-produced copy or electronic files, and ‘typesetter’ to describe the typesetting firm or interfacing house that will rekey the typescript or process (‘output’) the electronic files and produce proofs.

   We have written as though the copy-editor is directly in touch with the author, though in some cases this will not be so. For simplicity’s sake we have used British examples, but copy-editors working in other countries can substitute their own conventions, such as proof correction symbols. The problems remain the same, even if the solutions may be different.


The publisher might receive the finished typescript from the author in any of the following forms:

   1 Hard-copy typescript: a computer printout, typewriter-produced copy, or even handwritten manuscript copy that will need to be keyed by a typesetter after copy-editing. Although some publishers make it a condition of acceptance that typescripts be provided in electronic form, there are still occasions – perhaps because the book has been written over a long period or by many contributors – when electronic files for some or all of the book are not available.

   2 Electronic files, with a matching printout: electronic files prepared by the author and sent to the publisher on disk, on CD-ROM or by some form of electronic file exchange via an email attachment or server. Although authors may be tempted to think that the file alone is sufficient, it is important for the publisher to insist that the author submits an identical hard copy as a verification of exactly what should be included.

   The files may be dealt with in any of several ways:

•   processed by a typesetter as they are, with little or no copy-editing or design. This is a possibility if the book has been carefully prepared by the author to the publisher’s requirements, perhaps using a pre-styled template. The publisher might already have seen an earlier draft or sample and given the author copy-editorial and design feedback. This method is suitable for projects where economy or rapid publication needs to take precedence and might include certain kinds of journal work and proceedings from conferences that need to be published quickly if they are to have maximum impact and, therefore, maximum sales. There should always be a thorough discussion by the interested parties of the merits and shortcomings of this method of publishing, and the author should be told that the material will be produced without copy-editing or even careful reading, if this is the case.

•   copy-edited and designed on hard-copy printout (see chapter 3), then corrected by the typesetter before being formatted and output and processed as proofs

   copy-edited and designed on hard-copy printout, then corrected by the author before being sent to the typesetter to be formatted and output and processed as proofs (see section 04)

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

Preface; 1. Introduction; 2. Preliminary copy-editing, design and specimen pages; 3. Preparing the typescript for the typesetter; 4. Illustrations; 5. Proofs; 6. House style; 7. Preliminary pages; 8. Indexes; 9. Other parts of a book; 10. Bibliographical references; 11. Literary material; 12. Multi-author and multi-volume works; 13. Science and mathematics books; 14. Other special subjects; 15. Reprints and new editions; 16. On-screen editing Anne Waddingham; Appendixes: 1. Checklist of copy-editing; 2. Book sizes; 3. Abbreviations for states in the USA; 4. Phonetic symbols; 5. The Russian alphabet; 6. Old English and Middle English letters; 7. French and German bibliographical terms and abbreviations; 8. Mathematical symbols; 9. Hebrew; 10. Arabic; 11. Islamic and other calendars; 12. Countries of the former USSR, Baltic States and former Yugoslavia; 13. Proof correction symbols; 14. How to check that an ISBN is correct.

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