Copy Editing Professional Editorial Standards / 12 октября 2007 г.

The Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada offers these (slightly edited) editorial standards for professional copy editors:

Editor: One who “revises or prepares any work for publication.”
— Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755

Editing is both an art and a craft. It may call variously for inspiration, patience, an infinite capacity for detail — or a measure of each. Serving the requirements of the publisher, the writer and the document itself demands self-confidence and tact — and humility. It also requires a variety of skills. Given this variety, no one can specify what makes a great performance in every activity that is called editing. One can, however, specify the skills generally accepted as needed by editors working in particular media.

An editor needs the skills of structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, markup and proofreading. The technologies used in editing and publishing change, but the fundamental tasks and the editorial skills required to work with words remain relatively constant.

Most editors have particular kinds of expertise, but to do a competent job in any of these areas, every editor needs some skills in all of them. All editors also need some knowledge of the publishing process, including an elementary understanding of design conventions and the technology of production, and some common-sense skills for interacting with writers and with others working on the same publication. Finally, they must recognize when they need to supplement their knowledge and skills; for example, all editors must know when and how to use reference books and other resources to find the information they need.

A competent structural and stylistic editor should be able to:

  1. Recognize structure appropriate for the intended audience and medium. Be able to suggest deletions, additions and rearrangements if appropriate — for example, where there are gaps in content, missing steps in the argument or unclear transitions.
  2. Create an outline to reveal structure.
  3. Reorganize material into an appropriate — for example, logical or entertaining — structure and sequence, keeping in mind that the nature of the publication often determines organization.
  4. Recognize when prose material would be better presented in another form — for example, number-laden text as a table or chart, descriptive material as a diagram or illustration, a long series of points as a list.
  5. Recognize language appropriate for the intended audience and medium, and make changes as necessary.
  6. Maintain a consistent style, reading level, point of view and level of decorum, while protecting the voice that is recognizably the writer’s.
  7. Enhance, or at least preserve, appropriate stylistic and dramatic devices — and minimize inappropriate ones.
  8. Recognize and clarify ambiguous vocabulary and syntax.
  9. Recognize and eliminate redundancies and verbosity.
  10. Recognize and eliminate jargon that is inappropriate for the intended audience.
  11. Correct or improve ineffective connections and transitions, parallels and paragraphing.
  12. Recognize and correct inconsistencies in the form and use of headings — for example, inappropriate level, non-parallel forms.
  13. Maintain consistent style in headings and in captions for tables, figures and illustrations.
  14. Recognize statements that should be checked for accuracy, and follow up as required.
  15. Identify inconsistencies in logic, facts and details such as time, nomenclature or setting, and correct or query as required.
  16. Whenever possible, deal with writers coherently and diplomatically to explain changes or ask for clarification, and negotiate such changes.
  17. Identify possible legal trouble spots — libel, contempt of court, plagiarism — or departures from social acceptability (gender, ethnicity, race or age bias).
  18. Revise or cut to meet length requirements.

Standards for copy editing:

For all of the following tasks, the editor should be familiar with the publication’s style guide, standard dictionary and general reference works and know when to use them.

  1. Identify and correct common errors in spelling, usage, grammar, punctuation and style.
  2. Ensure that sources are acknowledged in an appropriate form.
  3. Check facts that fall within the realm of general knowledge; ascertain the mathematical accuracy of numerical material, and ensure internal consistency.
  4. Maintain accuracy and consistency in the handling and styling of headlines and subheads, outlines and tables.
  5. Follow style; develop a style sheet and follow it when necessary.


  • Recognize and correct commonly misspelled words (such as accommodate, recede, millennium, minuscule, occurrence) and tricky proper nouns (such as Colombia, Ukrainian, Macdonald, Renaissance).
  • Understand variations in British, American and Canadian styles.


  • Recognize and correct common errors and misuses (such as comprise/compose, affect/effect, uninterested/disinterested, enormity, gratuitously).
  • Demonstrate an adequate vocabulary to substitute words that more accurately convey the writer’s intent, and have sufficient sensitivity not to make unnecessary changes.
  • Recognize and avoid or change empty verbiage, eliminating jargon, sexism, racism and other potentially offensive or pejorative language.
  • Maintain consistency in the level of language established by the writer, required by the publisher, or both.

Grammar and syntax

Recognize and correct such common problems as

  • dangling participles and misplaced modifiers
  • unclear antecedents for pronouns
  • lack of agreement between subject and verb
  • confusion in tense, number or case
  • faulty parallelism
  • weak sentence constructions
  • confusion between restrictive and nonrestrictive constructions


  • Understand the principles governing the use of punctuation marks — period, question mark, colon, semicolon, comma (serial and parenthetical), em dash, hyphen, quotation marks (single and double, opening and closing) and ellipsis points.
  • Use the full range of punctuation marks to achieve clarity.
  • Apply punctuation principles consistently and sensibly.


Maintain consistent patterns within each story for

  • capitalization
  • abbreviated and spelled-out forms and symbols
  • arabic, spelled-out and roman numerals
  • dates, address, telephone numbers, Web addresses, etc.


  • Recognize the peculiar pitfalls of text containing statistics, mathematics or numerals, and know how to use decimals, fractions, percentages and percentage points correctly
  • Perform metric/imperial conversions correctly and consistently

Tools of the trade

Use common practices and apply style conventions and preferences for

  • the use of italix, roman, boldface, underlining, caps and small caps
  • metric versus imperial measurements
  • spelling and punctuation styles
  • abbreviations and symbols
  • accepted copy-editing symbols to mark copy for either word-processing or typesetting and use common proofreading marks.
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