There are three situations that call for copyediting: (1) A revised and completed work has been accepted by a publisher and now needs to be made ready for publication. (2) A writer has a fully revised and polished manuscript — and wants it to look as correct and consistent as possible before the text is submitted to publishers (or before it's self-published). (3) A document like a grant application will not be formally published but still needs to look as correct and consistent as possible before being submitted to readers. I have copyedited documents for all these situations. It's painstaking but enormously satisfying work.
Before a piece of writing is published — that is, before it goes public — the copyeditor ensures that it is readable and looks professional according to current publishing guidelines. In a copyedited text, virtually no careless errors, outdated conventions, or inconsistencies will distract the reader. The specific skills that a copyeditor needs include
- a thorough knowledge of grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation;
- training in the use of professional publishing conventions and tools, like editorial style manuals and style sheets;
- the ability to make all edits clearly so that the writer knows exactly how the editor is suggesting that the text be changed;
- skill in making the text correct, consistent, and clear while retaining the writer’s voice;
- the patience and attention to detail necessary to compare different sections of a text (like endnotes and bibliography) for consistency;
- the ability to perform different levels of copyediting, depending upon a client’s needs;
- a passion for making a text as correct and consistent as possible — while respecting the client's deadlines.
Light copyediting changes as little of the original text as possible, the editor correcting mistakes and establishing consistency of elements like spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, and the formatting of numbers. Heavy copyediting addresses all of these issues but also includes more extensive revisions of word choice, transitions, and sentence structure. The editor and writer need to have a conversation before the editing begins, to be sure that the editor is doing the level of copyediting that the client desires.
Is copyediting not what you're looking for? See the questions listed under "For Writers" for more guidance.
This description of copyediting appeared in a slightly different version in my blog, Editor Queries.