Copy Editor

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Copy Editor


The purpose of editing is to improve the quality of communication. Over time, much written information has been produced and exchanged, and thanks to editors, publications are not only grammatically and syntactically correct, but really good works of literature. Copy editors check magazine, journal or newspaper articles, books or other publications in preparation for printing. They may also design pages and arrange illustrations. Copy editors are expected to be fully qualified journalists and writers. Just as judges are lawyers, astronauts are pilots and FBI agents are police officers, copy editors are writers or reporters first. Copy editors examine articles, tables, captions and columns to be printed in a newspaper for grammatical and factual accuracy. They are also responsible for ensuring the final form and accuracy of all published material and writing headlines for reporters' stories.

Copy editors check sentences and phrases for spelling, grammatical correctness, and precise word usage. If errors are found, they make corrections using proofreader marks. In many cases, copy editors are expected to judge the news value of articles and features. If a story is too long, it must be edited to retain its meaning while conforming to the news editor's decision on length. A copy editor's mandate also includes keeping an eye out for libel and factual errors. Although it is the responsibility of the writer to make sure that all facts are accurate, the copy editor still must double check. In magazine and book publishing, this is usually considered an essential task, however, copy editors will only check blatant facts that appear questionable, usually lacking time to do the rest.

A copy editor's duties vary with the size of the publication. Large metropolitan dailies may require full-time services of a number of copy editors. On small weekly newspapers, editors or assistants may edit news copy in addition to their other duties. Copy editors are usually the last line of defense against bad writing, and writing can certainly be bad even if it is clean. Tightening up wordy prose and smoothing awkward transitions are generally considered part of the copy editor's job, but more extensive rewriting usually has to be cleared with other editors and usually gets sent back to the writer for a rewrite.

The writing component of a copy editor's job consists mainly of headlines and captions. In fact, headline writing is an art in itself with its own set of intricate rules. Headlines are supposed to tell the story in a line or two and be filled with witty puns to draw in a reader, which can be very difficult. Some copy editors are quite clever in their headline writing. Also, some copy editors do page layout and design. This involves deciding which stories, photos and graphics will run and where they will be placed. Finally, most copy editors have some sort of typesetting chores. This involves pagination and coding, which can get quite monotonous.
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  Interests and Skills  
Copy editors must have a facility for and love of language and a proficiency in grammar, spelling and composition. They must have the ability to work with people and independently, while making informed, logical decisions. They must be able to criticize effectively, while taking criticism as well. Copy editors must love to read and marvel at the idea of improving language and style.

They must have an elephantine memory and a sharp eye for detail. Copy editors will be held responsible for any flaws left in a printed text. They should have an instinct for recognizing patterns, creating categories, and organizing ideas; be willing to question assumptions, theories, and facts and most importantly have the ability to recognize what is missing in content, argument or presentation.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Evaluate articles, news copy and wire service dispatches for publication
  • Recommend or make changes in content, style and organization of submitted copies
  • Correct errors in spelling, grammar and syntax, and shorten or lengthen copy as required
  • Confer with staff writers, reporters and others regarding revisions to copy
  • Plan layout or format of copy according to printed space
  • Plan and coordinate activities of staff and ensure deadlines are met
  • Write compelling and witty headlines and captions
  • Check and edit content for accuracy of style
  • Dummy the magazine (prepare a rough mock-up of the entire magazine) to establish the general layout of articles and advertising
  • Write articles and editorials
  • Depending on the industry in which they work, copy editors may spend their days alone, with many different people, or with one or two other people. Newspaper copy editors work in loud and hectic surroundings. Copy editors often work long irregular hours, with longer hours required to meet deadlines. Some newspaper copy editors work nights in order to get the news into the next day's paper. Freelance editors are more able to set their own hours.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Copy editors work for publishing firms, magazines, journals, newspapers, radio and television networks and stations, and for companies and government departments that produce publications such as newsletters, handbooks and manuals. Copy editors may also work on a freelance basis.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Competition for copy editing positions is intense and most jobs go to qualified people who already work in the field. Nevertheless, all copy editors must start somewhere and getting as much experience and published writing is the best route to take. Copy editors must be willing to take entry level positions and work their way up to positions of editor-in-chief or production editor.

Newspaper copy editors will advance to positions with increased supervisory responsibilities. For example, a copy editor may become a section editor or be promoted to an assistant city editor position. Accordingly, the opportunity to work at a larger newspaper is often seen as a promotion. Since copy editors have such a wide range of experience within the literary and publishing industry, they may choose to work in marketing, public relations or any other communications-oriented field.

  Educational Paths  
Copy editors are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in journalism, English, communications or a related arts discipline. Several community colleges and universities offer post-graduate editing and publishing programs, usually ranging from one to two years. A working knowledge of media law, and computer word-processing and page layout programs is also recommended.

Several years of experience in journalism, writing, publishing or a related field is usually required. Most employers value experience and reputation over other credentials, so it is recommended that copy editors work on newsletters, magazines or brochures for organizations in your community. In fact, many such groups welcome volunteers. This is valuable experience as aspiring copy editors will have the opportunity to look over someone's shoulder and test their aptitude, skills and inclination towards this career.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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