How to Work With A Copy Editor – Provide Clear Editing Instructions


Having a copy editor review your manuscript is expensive, so you want to get the most benefit from their review. You also want to be clear about how you would like your manuscript edited. Ensure your copy editor does not make major changes that will cost you time when completing your manuscript. Here are a few tips to help your copy editor be more effective.

Copy editors have a lot of writing and editing experience that will benefit the quality of your writing. However, the experience and preferences the copy editors have may also negatively affect your manuscript if they use a different style manual.Potentially, the manuscript could be in the incorrect tense or person (e.g., first vs third) with the wrong style manual.

How to Work with a Copy Editor
The first recommendation is to provide clear editing instructions. Specify the style you want to use. State whether it is American or British English. Include any requirements you may have outside of the style manual.

For example, if this is a thesis, provide the copy editor with the institutional and advisor’s requirements. If you are working with a publisher and submitting a manuscript, include the publisher’s requirements. Most times, you can provide the Website URL for this information.

If this is a highly technical paper or an academic research paper, add a glossary of terms (plural and singular). Also add any formulas or special symbols for reference so it is easy for the copy editor to add these into the manuscript.

Some authors include an academic paper within the research area for the copy editor. They can see how the terms are used and examples of commonly used phrases. Ideally, request a technical copy edit for such needs. A standard copy editor may not have access to the journals, so attach an example or provide the Website URL if it is in the public domain. It is best to contract an academic English editor for such needs.

Also, let the editor know that if there are items you prefer they not change. If you have been told by your advisor, for example, to use specific phrases or explanations, include this information. Note this so the copy editor does not change these items through the entire paper.

If you are submitting a short story or novel, provide specific information when the dialogue of your characters may change. I once worked with a copy editor who corrected the grammar in the dialogue through the entire 1000 page manuscript without such important instructions. Later, they discovered the poor grammar and misuse of words was intentional by the author to reflect the character’s background.

Also, specify the tense preferred, and distinguish between first, second and third person.

If you are submitting a manuscript that is fantasy, science fiction, or uses unknown or created words, provide the information in a glossary. Your copy editor may not realize that you are making a play on words or have made up a word. A glossary also helps the copy writer make sure you are consistently using the spellings or symbols.

Encourage your editor to contact you if she or he has questions. This saves time so they can focus on other issues in the manuscript.

There are also ways to determine if your copy editor is the best editor for your project. If you are working with an editing company, ask for a copy editor with specific expertise in your project area. Also, choose an editing company that provides a free edit sample so you can see how they would work with your specific document.

Check to see if the copy editing company provides an opportunity for you to put in specific instructions and provides a re-edit if there are errors in the editing. First Editing provides these services and is a good example of a company that provides free editing samples.

In closing, look for a copy editor that is open to receiving very specific instructions on how to edit your manuscript. Also, provide the copy editor with as much information as you can about the subject area, specific terminology, and the style issues required.

Forming a good relationship and communication style with your copy editor is important and can increase significantly the quality of your writing. By building this relationship, the copy editor is your partner in your next successful project.

Frequently Asked Questions

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