By Prasiddha Gustanto
Senior writer and editor at ALVEO
The average layperson can be forgiven for thinking that editors and copy editors are synonymous positions with identical roles.
After all, in all fairness, the two titles do sound rather alike, and they both focus on editing. These two jobs, however, have very important differences, and it is important to know what role each plays for any individual or organization hoping to prepare the final draft of a document.
Whenever one plans to write and publish a document that has any kind of writing in it, the document in question will inevitably go through a process by which the text contained within will be edited. There are, broadly speaking, two different types of editing.
The process of going through a text and making decisions on how the text is organized and what kind of content goes into that text is editing. Meanwhile, examining and making alterations to the same text for accuracy, grammar and formatting is copy editing. One edits for the core message and meaning while the other edits for the finer, more technical aspects and details.
Obviously, in everyday casual language, people often use the word editing to also refer to copy editing. After all, anyone who has ever been tasked with writing an essay in primary and secondary education will remember their teacher always reminding them to edit and proofread their essays before submitting them, lest they risk losing points for spelling or structural errors.
But among professionals, editing and copy editing refer to two different jobs. A hired editor may not necessarily have the qualifications to do copy editing. Likewise, a hired copy editor may not have the skill to do the other type of editing. Try submitting a text for editing at your organization and you’ll inevitably be asked whether you want it to be edited or to be copy edited.
An editor is in charge of making alterations in a text for communicating the core message and meaning of your text. A good editor will know what kind of changes to your text are most necessary for conveying your ideas most accurately and succinctly possible. A good editor will know things like whether or not specific paragraphs need to be moved up or down to maximize impact, or whether specific sentences can be rewritten for clarity or maybe even removed for concision.
A copy editor, on the other hand, is tasked with making sure your submitted text is free of technical errors. This encompasses things like grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax. A copy editor will also make sure you use proper terminology and stylistic conventions. For example, journalistic texts often make use of Associated Press styling (generally referred to as “AP style”) conventions, while social science texts generally use style rules from the American Psychological Association, or “APA”. Each style has its own very specific rules.
Of course, within editors and copy editors, each also has people specializing in different types of texts. So, for example, an editor who specializes in editing sports magazines may not have the same level of skill in editing horror novels. Likewise, a copy editor experienced in copy editing for general newspapers may not have the technical knowledge required to edit high-level scientific journals.
If you are looking to hire someone to edit your texts, making sure you know whether to pick just an editor or a to pick a copy editor is just the first step. You also need to know if the person in question has any expertise in the specific type of text you want to have examined.