Top tips for copyediting

If you believe that “a face in caps and braces” refers to an individual sporting multiple protective headgear and a mouthful of wire, you’re undoubtedly a typical human observer. However, if your initial association is with a typographical style—specifically, CAPITAL LETTERS enclosed in {curly brackets}—then you belong to that rare lineage of copy editors deeply entrenched in the intricate world of publishing. Keep reading; this is tailored just for you.

The editorial process is not complete without copyediting and proofing. These processes are much the same for online and print documents—checking for correctness (spelling, grammar, and punctuation), consistency of capitalization and other mechanics, accuracy of information, and completeness [1].

As a writer or editor dedicated to refining manuscripts for publication, you’re likely always seeking ways to elevate your skills. Explore these 12 tips to enhance your copyediting prowess, whether you’re starting out or a seasoned professional.

  1. Hone your language skills

    As editors, we must consistently study grammar and remain up-to-date on language usage. When uncertain, it’s essential to consult reliable resources. Style guides and thesauruses can provide clarity on whether “high-risk” should be hyphenated or written as two separate words. Additionally, they clarify whether it’s the British or the Americans who place quotes inside punctuation marks. Lastly, they address the acceptability of beginning a sentence with a numeral.

  2. Pay attention to detail

    As the adage goes, “God is in the details,” and this holds especially true for copyediting. Copy editors are tasked with unearthing errors and inconsistencies, and they inevitably assume the roles of grammar police, comma monarchs or queens, quality control officers, and guardians of consistency. Most of them harbor an obsessive-compulsive streak, meticulously copy-editing every signboard and article they encounter, and wincing at the sight of mislaid apostrophes.

  3. Value consistency

    By meticulously editing for consistent terminology and punctuation, you pay homage to your readers. This practice conveys that deliberate intent lies behind every word. In the realm of professional, polished manuscripts, inconsistencies stemming from divergent capitalization or punctuation are eradicated. For instance, if “healthcare” is the accurate spelling, it should never coexist with variations like “health-care,” “health care,” or “Health-Care” within the same document.

  4. Read it again

    Frequently, editors rush to upload manuscripts as soon as they reach the final period. However, a prudent approach dictates that both the lengthiest article and the shortest headline deserve at least two readings. This best practice remains steadfast throughout a copyeditor’s career. Begin with a swift, superficial read to skim through the text. Then, for each subsequent reading, delve into a meticulous review, leaving no detail unexamined.

  5. Look out for tautology

    Repeatedly employing the same word within a sentence or paragraph, or redundantly expressing an idea using different phrasing, creates a jarring effect for readers—akin to encountering a visual pothole. Diligent copyeditors possess an innate ability to “hear” sentences. Writers, having scrutinized their own prose countless times, often overlook such repetition. However, vigilant readers will undoubtedly notice it if left unaddressed.

  6. Stay true to the author’s voice

    Copyediting is an uncelebrated, behind-the-scenes endeavor. While writers ultimately hold the reins, their names gracing the manuscript, it remains invaluable to nurture the art of delicate editorial intervention. Cultivate the finesse of addressing concerns with writers, adeptly presenting queries, offering comments, suggesting improvements, and providing clear explanations. Approach this task with diplomacy, recognizing that collaboration yields the best results. Be a partner in the publication process, ensuring that every effort contributes to a manuscript that tells the most compelling story possible. Pay attention to the minutiae while keeping sight of the overarching themes that weave through the text.

  7. Be a partner in publication

    Strive to craft the most compelling story within your manuscript. Pay attention to intricate details while keeping sight of the overarching themes. Engage in inquiry and offer suggestions: “Who is this character referenced solely by their first name?” “This sentence lacks clarity; consider revising it like this:” “The final sentence feels weak; consider ending with the preceding one for a stronger conclusion.”

  8. Create space

    Staring at an article for hours can be frustrating and counterproductive. Taking breaks and returning to it later is wise advice, but in time-sensitive fields, this luxury isn’t always available. Editors have clever techniques to overcome mental fatigue, such as reading articles backward for typos and reading aloud to identify weak spots.

  9. Develop detachment

    Occasionally, you must assess, make significant edits, and trim content to craft a cohesive manuscript or meet specific publication word counts. Proactive editing shouldn’t cause distress. Copy editors are not only professionals but also artisans adept at surgically refining content when needed.

  10. Value critical feedback

    Under pressure or fatigue, even meticulous editors can miss simple mistakes. Having someone else review your work impartially can prevent these errors. Embrace feedback from peers and clients to enhance your editing skills.

  11. Be flexible

    Copy editors must adapt to the diverse expectations, guidelines, and concerns of each publication. Flexibility is not only essential but non-negotiable in this field. Through tweaking, polishing, and fine-tuning content, copy editors play a vital role in delivering pertinent information to readers. This underscores why adept copy editors are both rare and highly esteemed.

  12. Serve the reader


    Whenever readers pause to puzzle over text, it signals an opportunity to enhance clarity, correctness, and conciseness in the copy. Sometimes, it’s about finding a new angle to express ideas or returning them to the writer for revision. Remember, you’re not just correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation; you’re advocating for clear writing.


Excellent copyediting is rooted in genuine passion and a love for impeccably written content. Editors who truly excel are fueled by a deep-seated enthusiasm for producing top-quality material. While numerous factors contribute to the importance of copy editors in the publication realm, it is their unwavering dedication to the craft that distinguishes them.


1. Troffer, A. M. (2002). Editing online documents: strategies and tips. In ANNUAL CONFERENCE-SOCIETY FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION (Vol. 49, pp. 351-356).

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