With the explosion of communications in every facet of life in the planet, the need for writers and the demand for the written word had grown exponentially. The growth of the writing profession and the number of writing practitioners have, in turn, spawned more people who work in tandem with writers – the editorial services sector.
Editorial services as an adjunct to the writing business is a relatively new sector. (Or, it could be they are highly visible now because of the demand.) In the past, it was only the people of the academia and those in the publishing industry who are the most active practitioners in this support sector of the literary world.
Because of the size of the many industries they are now servicing, their own industry have become highly specialized, too. Now, there are many sub-groups (and personnel) to what were once offices and positions traditionally manned by only one person or two.
Foremost among these people are those who have their noses, so to speak, closest to whatever manuscript they are working on for the moment – the copy editor.
Copy editing (copy-editing in Britain) is the process where the copy editor makes formatting changes and other improvements to the text. In publishing, this is the man who performs the actual task of editing the copy (text) of a written work (manuscript).
Basically, copy editing involves correcting spelling and punctuation, and making right those grammatical and semantic errors. They also check for factual or plot inconsistencies (for stories) or too much use of passive voice. The copy editor makes sure the text flows well, makes sense, fair and accurate and will cause no legal problems.
The copy editor may abridge text (called 'cutting' or trimming), thus reducing the length of the piece or to improve the material. In the old days, they sometimes re-write parts to make the piece coherent.
Skills and training
Foremost of the copy editor's skills would be an excellent command of the language. They must also have a broad general knowledge to spot factual errors, and excellent critical thinking skills to recognize inconsistencies.
They must have some very good skills in people handling, too, especially with writers who are mostly very sensitive, high-strung, or short-tempered.
Copy editors are usually college-degree holders, often in journalism, English or communications. Nowadays, copy editing is taught as a college journalism course under some other names.
In the past, a copy editor reads a written text and, using a colored editing pencil, edits the work and marks it with a handwritten proofreader's marks. Nowadays, the text is on the screen and corrections are directly made to the text, using XML or some similar coding system.
With the advance in technology (and desktop publishing), many copy editors now also perform design and layout work. It was only a few years ago that these were once the exclusive province of production crews of publications.
Today, the skills needed for the job are shifting and evolving. With the addition of other technical knowledge which are sometimes considered just as important as the writing skills, copy-editing is heading into more interesting areas.
Copy-editing is only one of the many specialty jobs within the many editorial services companies now sprouting all over the world. Other surprises are expected to come in the editorial services field.