What’s the difference between copy editing and proofreading? Some people use the terms interchangeably, especially outside the publishing world. Often, people ask for proofreading when they actually need copy editing. (It hardly ever goes the other way around, because few know what a copy editor is.) Who does what?
Let’s rewind. In magazines, the editing process begins with structural or substantive editing, done by a story’s top editor, or handling editor. This is the person who assigns a story to a writer and then works with him or her to shape its content, structure, tone and flow. Any editor who assigns and/or performs structural editing on a story can be called a top/handling editor — this is separate from job titles like senior editor, associate editor, etc.
Next comes copy editing. The copy editor gives the story a deep, line-by-line edit to polish it for publication. Copy editors look for problems with grammar, punctuation, usage and style (including adherence to a magazine’s house style). They also ferret out issues related to consistency, clarity, readability, logic and organization, and flag possible factual errors. If a story needs substantial changes, the copy editor consults the handling editor, who may also check with the writer.
Factchecking is usually handled in conjunction with copy editing — sometimes before the copy edit, sometimes after (I’d say the rougher the copy, the more important it is for the copy editor to review it first). A researcher (staff or freelance) verifies the copy’s accuracy by retracing the writer’s footsteps, then discusses changes with the handling editor or copy editor.
The story, whipped into shape, then goes to the art department for layout. (Graphic designers may also receive an earlier version — often the same one the factchecker gets — so they can plan the layout and order images.) There’s typically back-and-forth between art and copy, or art and the handling editor, to fit the story to the layout, fill in stuff like captions and credits, and clean up the copy flow (gaps, bad breaks, widows, orphans) and design (say, inconsistent leading or missing indentations, drop caps and turn arrows).
Finally, proofreading. When the proofreader (staff or freelance) sees the layouts (or proofs), the final article copy has been flowed in, and the display copy (cover lines, heds, deks, callouts) and other elements (captions, credits, bylines, etc.) are in place. The pages should be as close to perfect as possible, especially since making changes at this stage can be expensive. The proofreader, who ideally is bringing “fresh eyes” to the process, looks for lingering errors and points them out to the copy editor. Corrected proofs become the printed magazine.
The roles of handling editor, copy editor, proofreader and factchecker can overlap, especially at smaller publications. A handling editor on one story might be the copy editor for another, or the whole team might proofread a story. A solo magazine editor might do it all or hire a freelancer to factcheck and copy edit.
These days, there’s a lot of opportunity for freelancers in this process, for both print and web. When I started working at Chatelaine in 2001, the copy department had a copy chief, an associate editor, a freelance copy editor who came in during production, and a full-time factchecker (me). When I left in 2005, we had all that plus another associate copy editor and a second full-time factchecker. Now that many magazines outsource at least some of these roles (recall the cuts at Reader’s Digest in 2010 and more recently at its French-language title Selection), a copy department that big — actually, the existence of a copy department at all — is quickly becoming the stuff of fiction. (In five years, Bright Lights, Big City will read like a fantasy novel.)
Better to outsource these steps than skip them, though. Maybe it’s because I started my career as a factchecker and copy editor, but it makes me nervous when editors go with a “light check” or “light copy edit” rather than the full treatment (especially if we’re talking about print) because they’re pressed for time or money. It’s not often that I see copy free of factual and/or technical errors. The mistakes will inevitably be hiding in the half you don’t check, so bring in fresh eyes if you can!
Canadian Oxford Dictionary
The Canadian Oxford, 2nd ed., is the dictionary of choice for pretty much every publication I’ve worked with, and it’s the one I recommend to clients who haven’t picked one. It also weighs six pounds and is as bulky as a phone book (remember those?), which matters when you’re dragging it to clients’ offices for copy editing gigs. But guess what? There’s an iPhone app. It’s $29.99, but the portability and search function are worth it. The text is nice and crisp, and it can be enlarged – great for tired eyes – and you can tap words in definitions to find out their meaning.
The Chicago Manual of Style Online
Recently I discovered that my copy of Chicago, the 14th edition, came out in 1993 – making it a year older than Justin Bieber. It’s also a decade older than the 15th edition, which I skipped because I figured that grammar and punctuation couldn’t have changed very much. But Chicago has evolved with the times, and so should we. The 16th edition came out in 2010, and an editor I work with recommended the online version. In the past, I hesitated at the annual $30 US fee (a print copy is about $45), but here’s why I’ve signed up for the free 30-day trial and why I’m going to subscribe: I’ve never liked navigating the book, and the online manual’s fully searchable; I can use it anywhere via my iPhone; it’ll always be up to date; and users have access to the Q&A archives, a discussion forum and tools to personalize the guide. Attention, managing editors: Group subscriptions are available.
Canadian Press Stylebook
Rounding out the trinity, there’s an online version of this reference book too, for $4 per month, or $6.25 if you want access to Caps and Spelling. (Licences are available for multiple users.) The Stylebook is on its 16th edition (released in 2010), with expanded chapters on writing for and about the Internet, writing and editing for broadcast, and PR. I’ll probably pick up the print editions, though; I think they’re updated often enough (every two years), and they’re a more economical – though not searchable – option.
For my first three years as a full-time freelancer, I worked on my 13-inch laptop, chosen for its portable size – I took it to coffee shops for a change of scenery. When my IT guy (my husband) suggested I get a 20-inch monitor, keyboard and mouse and use them together with my laptop, I refused, saying, “I don’t need them!” He convinced me to try it, and now I’d rather stay at my desk than go to Starbucks. The screens are oriented to behave like one monitor – I can drag my mouse across both in one swipe – and the extra space saves time and boosts productivity. It’s just so convenient, for example, to have a PDF or webpage open on one screen while I type notes into a Word document on the other…plus the setup makes me feel like an operator in The Matrix. (The laptop is nicely angled thanks to a stand.) Now I’ve got a bad case of size envy: Last week, another editor told me she has a 15-inch laptop next to a 26-inch monitor.
What online resources, apps and tech tools are making your editing life easier?
In addition to working on both sides of the desk, I’ve been a staffer and a freelancer (currently I’m the latter). The majority of my work has been with magazines – consumer, trade and custom – but as many freelancers do these days, I also have corporate and non-profit clients and occasionally teach workshops.
I’ve been lucky enough to learn from and work with many great people in the magazine business. I also like to make new connections – maybe we’ve already met at a CSME, MagNet, EAC or PWAC event.
My posts will cover topics related to magazines, editing, writing, freelancing and more. I’ll interview fellow magazine people, share the best resources I’ve found, and answer questions. I invite you to join the discussion. (And I should point out that I’m the president of PWAC’s Toronto Chapter and a member of the EAC and CFU, but all opinions in EditFish are mine alone.)
Final note for today: Why “EditFish”? Stuck for a blog name, I took the advice of my friend (and former Masthead blogger) Corinna vanGerwen and sought inspiration from industry veterans. I came across a quote attributed to American journo Peggy Noonan. It resonates with my own goal of creating clear, concise copy – with a touch of humour whenever possible.
“Remember the waterfront shack with the sign FRESH FISH SOLD HERE. Of course it’s fresh, we’re on the ocean. Of course it’s for sale, we’re not giving it away. Of course it’s here, otherwise the sign would be someplace else. The final sign: FISH.”
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