Copyediting and Proofreading For Dummies book cover

Copyediting and Proofreading For Dummies

By: Suzanne Gilad Published: 05-07-2007

Turn your knack for language into a lucrative career

Must-know techniques and resources for maximizing your accuracy and speed

Interested in becoming a copyeditor or proofreader? Want to know more about what each job entails? This friendly guide helps you position yourself for success. Polish your skills, build a winning résumé and land the job you've always wanted. Books, magazines, Web sites, corporate documents - find out how to improve any type of publication and make yourself indispensable to writers, editors, and your boss.

  • Balance between style and rules
  • Master the art of the query
  • Use proofreader symbols
  • Edit and proof electronic documents
  • Build a solid freelancing career

Articles From Copyediting and Proofreading For Dummies

9 results
9 results
Copyediting and Proofreading For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-12-2022

As a copyeditor or proofreader, you can’t possibly remember everything, so you need outside resources and references, and lots of them. Although most resources are available online, it’s still helpful to have certain books on hand. And, of course, you need to know your proofreading symbols so that you can make changes and understand other editors’ changes.

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Proofreading for Common Errors

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Proofreaders don't see things the way other people do. They scrutinize. When something is awry, their warning buzzers go off and they swoop down for a better look. They are charged with catching the errors that everyone, including the copyeditor, has missed. What separates good proofreaders from bad is practice. The more you do it, the better (and faster) you become at catching errors. Proofreaders check for many of the same things copyeditors do, but proofreaders put an extra emphasis on catching the kinds of errors others are likely to miss: Alignment: Proofreaders scan margins, bulleted lists, and everything else that is supposed to align with something else. Alphabetized lists and sequences: Proofreaders have a field day correcting lists that are improperly alphabetized. For them, alphabetizing lists is like shooting fish in a barrel. Captions: Proofreaders know that captions on photos and illustrations are often not reviewed carefully by others. Copyeditors may intend to go back and read captions after completing the editing of the main copy, but they often forget to. Columns: Proofreaders always make certain that columns are formatted correctly. Dates: Dates are notorious for being incorrect. When a day of the week is mentioned with a date, proofreaders always check the calendar to make sure that the day of the week and the date correspond. Headlines: Proofreaders double-check headlines. When a headline has an error, you don't want to be the person who missed it. Numbers: It's easy for writers to mistype a number. Proofreaders review them carefully — especially if they are connected to dollar signs. Spelling of names: Proofreaders check the spelling of personal and organizational names against other sources (such as Web sites) when possible. If copyeditors are the gatekeepers charged with protecting copy against bad writing, proofreaders stamp the admission tickets. Proofreaders try to keep the above elements consistent with the style of the particular publisher for whom they are working. The house style, or style sheet, is a printed document that shows how particular parts of language should be written (such as using one space after a period, not two). When an element isn't addressed by the style sheet, the publisher has a particular style guide to follow, such as The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. The style guide explains things like when to use "each other" and when to use "one another." Lastly, the publisher has a preferred dictionary to give the final word on spelling. When a proofreader is in doubt about anything, she should look it up, making sure to obey the hierarchy of resources: 1. House style sheet 2. Style guide 3. Dictionary

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Debunking Some Myths about Copyediting and Proofreading

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Maybe you're carrying around some archaic images in your skull about what copyediting and proofreading entail. If you assume that taking this career path means you'll be wearing nerdy glasses while forever flipping through dusty grammar tomes and making nice white sheets of paper bleed with the markings from your red or blue pencil, think again. The resources you turn to for advice on grammar, spelling, and usage are just as likely to be Web sites as reference books. And depending on your employer, you may make all your contributions via keyboard instead of red or blue pencil. So put your nerdy glasses away (unless you really like them). The world of professional words is full of infectiously cool creative types — writers, editors, designers, and artists. They're movers and shakers with creative ideas and (almost always) a true love of reading, which means they're pretty fascinating to talk to at parties. Here are some other myths to strike: Copyeditors and proofreaders have to be students of literature and English, classically trained by Ivy League professors. If you couldn't diagram a sentence for a million bucks, don't worry about it. You don't need to know every nuance of the English language to be a copyeditor or proofreader. It helps to be an avid reader, but it doesn't matter whether you fall asleep at night reading Norton anthologies or copies of Sports Illustrated. If you read for money, you'll never enjoy reading again. The running joke among copyeditors is that if anyone ever buys one a book, there'd better be some cash tucked into the table of contents or it won't get read. But that's just a joke. There's still no better thrill than putting your feet up and settling into a suspense thriller — without having to scour for errors. Chefs still enjoy tasty meals. Lifeguards still enjoy swimming. Proofreaders and copyeditors still enjoy reading. If reading is pleasurable to you now, it always will be. And you can pursue jobs that allow you to read the types of materials you find most interesting; don't assume that in order to preserve your love for romance novels, you'd better focus your professional efforts on scientific journals, for example. Stick with your passions, and chances are that you'll be inspired to do great work (which will lead to you getting even more jobs). All that reading will destroy your eyes and your back. If you choose to copyedit or proofread, you won't be reading in the dim confines of a monastic cave. You'll be reading the way you normally do — as if you're perusing the morning newspaper or your favorite Web site. The difference is that you'll be a bit more focused on the content. So copyediting and proofreading don't require an Ivy League degree, won't destroy your love of reading, and shouldn't cause your body to deteriorate. In place of these myths, here are some truths that may help you develop a better idea of what to expect from either profession: Opportunities abound. As literacy rates and the global population grow, so grow the markets for proofreaders and copyeditors. Here's another reason you should have no trouble finding work as a copyeditor or proofreader: the World Wide Web. Before the Web came along, there were already lots of words being printed every day that needed to be copyedited and proofread. But with Web content thrown into that mix of (constantly changing) written communication, the possibilities for someone with your skills are limitless. You get a paid education from either profession. This advice might sound familiar: "Get a good education so you can get a good job!" Well, editorial types have good jobs that give great educations. Your job as a copyeditor and proofreader is to get educated — oftentimes, with information you never would have happened upon in a library or bookstore. Whether you want to work with books, newspapers, Web sites, corporate reports, or bubblegum wrappers, you'll be introduced to information you never knew existed. Your career can be as mobile as you need it to be. If you're looking for full-time employment that comes with an office (or at least a cubby), mobility may not matter much to you. But if you're given to roam, you're considering the right professions. Even if mobility isn't your key concern right now, the skills you develop as a copyeditor or proofreader can help you get work wherever you may wander during your lifetime. These days, few of us stay put for decades on end, so investing the effort in a career with this kind of portability makes a whole lot of sense. If writing is your goal, copyediting and proofreading can carry you closer to it. Reading published work — or about-to-be-published work — can help you develop your own writing skills. Obviously, you could just read these pieces on your own and gain the same benefits. But why not get paid to do so? Besides, the processes of copyediting and proofreading require digesting text in ways that are atypical of a pleasure read. When you're hired to help make a publication as perfect as it can be, you pay some serious attention to every word on the page. You'll have lots of fun stuff to talk about at your next class reunion. When you bump into an old acquaintance and he asks what you've been up to, won't it be fun to rattle off the latest books, magazines, or Web sites you've worked on? This line of work makes for good conversation. Don't be surprised if people ask you how they can get into it, too.

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Committing a Few Number-Editing Rules to Memory

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Most rules are rife with exceptions in the publishing industry, but a few are so standard and ubiquitous that they're well worth memorizing. One set of rules that are pretty standard is how to deal with numbers — whether you should spell them out or use good ole Arabic numerals. Before you start proofreading or copyediting your text, you need to know the basic rules about incorporating numbers into narrative (nontechnical or humanistic) manuscripts and into technical (scientific) manuscripts. Definitely ask about house style for your particular project because variant, hybrid treatments are common. But a few rules are usually common to both genres and are worth committing to memory for that reason: Never begin a sentence with a numeral. This rule is absolute, no matter what genre you're working in. Spell out the number or reword the sentence. Style all numerals of the same class or type consistently in the text. Avoid using two unrelated numerals in a row: In 2007 40,000 people will become millionaires, and I plan on being one of them. Fix this problem by rewording the sentence: I plan on being one of the 40,000 people who will become millionaires in 2007. Always use a numeral before an abbreviated unit of measurement, such as 8 oz. or 7 lbs. Write a percentage as a numeral followed by the word percent. Numbers in narrative documents Narrative or nontechnical documents typically don't have many numbers in them, so the numbers are more frequently spelled out than in technical documents. You may find that these conventions hold true for most narrative projects: Spell out numbers from one to one hundred. Use numerals for page numbers, chapter numbers, years, and dates. Spell out large numbers only if they can be spelled out in two words: fifty-nine thousand; three million. Numbers in technical documents Technical documents typically have the pleasure of being rife with numbers. Hence, editors usually prefer numerals to spelled-out numbers because they're easier to find, easier to read, and less space-consuming. Here are two rules that are fairly standard in technical copyediting and proofreading: Spell out numbers from one to nine. Spell out all units of measurement. When correcting numerals that you want spelled out, you can circle the numeral and then circle an "sp" in the margin. However, you risk that a compositor (the person preparing the laid-out text for publication) will misspell the word. It's always safer to spell the word out yourself.

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Copyediting for Political Correctness

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

What do Tron, Rubik's Cubes, parachute pants, and political correctness have in common? They all got their start in the 1980s. And while Tron is now a cult classic, Rubik's Cubes are tradeshow freebies, and people no longer wear those awful swishing things, political correctness is here to stay. One of the copyeditor's jobs is to point out when an author strays too far over the fine line between being wisely cautious and being a little silly. Writing shouldn't offend people, nor should it coddle them. It should be sensitive to language or sentiment that unnecessarily excludes or alienates whole groups of people — especially your readers. Moreover, copyeditors are expected to flag or change language that promotes bias or stereotyping of others (based on gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, age, or a mental or physical disability). That said, you must find a precarious balance between eliminating language you personally find unacceptable or offensive and allowing the author to fully express himself. Your goal should be to stay on the lookout for those transgressions the author may not be aware he is committing. When people rail against political correctness, they're usually stating that it has run amok. The label "PC" is, more often than not, applied disparagingly. However, you do need to watch out for things that could genuinely offend readers. Following are some things you may ask your author about: Gender: Is it necessary to refer to an object or country as he or she when it would suffice? Is there a reason to use such terms as male nurse or female doctor? Is the generic use of he appropriate? (For example, Every director must report to his office by 9:00 a.m.) Can chairman and fireman be changed to the more gender-neutral chair and firefighter? Race: Is it necessary to point out racial differences? (For example, The board comprises six men and three African-American women.) Is there reason to use such archaic terms as oriental (instead of Asian)? Disabilities: Is it appropriate in context to mention a disability? (Despite his prosthesis, he was a profitable stockbroker.) Should you consider changing such negative references as confined to a wheelchair? Perhaps wheelchair-supported would be equally clear. Don't let the whole PC thing get out of hand. A term like differently abled, while well intentioned, reads strangely euphemistic and maybe should be struck for a more acceptable term, like developmentally delayed. A note of caution: While it is necessary in journalism and most corporate communications to maintain an impartial tone, fiction is a whole different game demanding much different rules. Don't immediately fire on descriptions of people as "yokels" or change dialogue that contains controversial language and subject matter. Bias-heavy language may be part of the characterization of a person or part of the story and shouldn't be touched by the hands of anyone except the author. If you can't discern the intent of the offending language in context, querying the author is always an option.

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Using Em Dashes and En Dashes Properly

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Although they are each a simple horizontal line, hyphens and the various dashes have their own appearances and specific uses. The shortest and most common is the hyphen, which is used for clarifying open compounds (such as "four-armed villains," as opposed to "four armed villains"), for separating number groups in phone and Social Security numbers, and for connecting written-out fractions like three-quarters. Although many people call the hyphen a "dash," dash refers to another group of horizontal lines in text. The two most common dashes are the em dash and the en dash. Em dash Em dashes — so called because they are (at least historically) the width of the character m — are used for emphasis or interruption. They can be used on their own or in pairs to offset a word or phrase: Many people seek help from naturopathic medical professionals — those who emphasize using diet, exercise, meditation, and other tools for improving health.A vast amount of serotonin — about 95 percent of the body's total — is produced in the digestive system. The double hyphen (--) is sometimes used in place of the em dash. You may notice that word-processing programs automatically convert double hyphens into em dashes for you. However, since the programs aren't infallible, some stray double hyphens may remain, so if you're copyediting on hard copy, you'll want to mark each em dash no matter how it appears in the text. The production editor will then make the global change to convert everything to proper em dashes. If you're proofreading, you need to make sure the change has been made and note any stray double hyphens that need to be corrected. (If you're copyediting electronically, just do a global search-and-replace to convert all double hyphens to em dashes — or vice versa, if that's what the production editor wants.) You can create an em dash in Microsoft Office software (among others) by pressing Ctrl+Alt+– on the Number Pad. To do a find and/or replace, plug the code ^+ into either the Find What or Replace With text boxes to search for or replace with an em dash. Em dashes also precede quotation attributions: Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.— Kahlil Gibran You may encounter a supersized first cousin of the em dash if you work on texts that include bibliography sections. The 3-em dash (which is the width of three m's in the corresponding font) most frequently appears in a bibliography when an author's name is cited more than once. Repeat listings by that same author feature a 3-em dash rather than the author's name again. En dash En dashes — dashes that are the width of the character n — have multiple uses. They're used to connect two items (usually numbers) that designate a range: We submitted chapters 10–12 well after midnight.I left at halftime with the score stuck at 3–1.The January–February issue is due on newsstands tomorrow. They take the place of hyphens when one part of an open compound is made up of two words: The author is a Nobel Prize–winning physicist. In the above example, Prize and winning are joined, but Nobel is just floating out there. The en dash works a little harder than a hyphen to show that the word Nobel is included in the open compound. En dashes may also be used to indicate that tension or opposition exists in a relationship, or to show a direction of movement: The article supports the tax–spend hypothesis: Tax revenues determine government spending. The New York–Washington, D.C. run takes about three hours by train. Admittedly, the idea of tension can be difficult to pinpoint. Definitely check what the house style or the preferred style guide has to say about en dashes. In the Microsoft Office Suite of applications (and many others as well), you can create an en dash by pressing Ctrl+– on the Number Pad. To do a search and/or replace, the code ^= represents the en dash.

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The Proofreading Symbols

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

As copyeditor or proofreader, you need to become familiar with the proofreading symbols so that you can make your edits understood. The following tables list proofreading symbols every proofreader and copyeditor should know:

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Web Sites for Proofreaders and Copyeditors

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Whether you’re a copyeditor or a proofreader, you probably do a lot of your work electronically. And the Internet is a great place to find helpful and interesting resources, such as those in the following list: Bartleby.com: Letting the resource speak for itself: “Bartleby.com combines the best of both contemporary and classic reference works into the most comprehensive public reference library ever published on the web.” Google will be your gracious fact-checking workhorse. Merriam-Webster OnLine provides the 10th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for free and the 11th edition for a subscription fee as well as a host of other resources. The New York Times’ Newsroom Navigator is a fact-checking launchpad for its reporters.

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Must-Have References for Copyediting and Proofreading

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

If you’re a copyeditor or proofreader, you know the importance of good reference sources. Much of the information in desk references can be found on the Internet, but a good copyeditor or proofreader should have hard-copy references as well. (You never know when your Internet connection may slow to a crawl.) The following list contains five references you can’t live without: House style sheet: You get this reference from the company you work for or, if you freelance, the person who hires you. When you question how something is presented in a document, it’s the first reference you check. Style manual: Your employer or client is likely to have a favored style manual, which may be The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, or The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. If the house style sheet doesn’t answer your question, check the style manual. And make sure you know which edition of the style manual is being used. Dictionary: Don’t copyedit or proofread without one. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition is preferred by many professionals, but you must use whatever dictionary your employer or client prefers. Get the latest edition; language changes quickly, especially in the technical realm. Grammar and usage guide: Some examples are Garner’s Modern American Usage, The Elements of Style, Words Into Type, and The Merriam-Webster Usage Dictionary. Specialty references: Some books that may be helpful include The Synonym Finder by Rodale, Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary, Wired Style, and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Depending on the types of projects you work on, your bookshelf may soon sport specialty references you never imagined needing.

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