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Proofreading and Copy Editing
Technology has changed the standards for proofreading and copy editing, even causing the roles to overlap in some situations. “Traditionally, proofreaders are responsible for finding errors during the layout or formatting of a final document,” notes Darryl Brunsvold, AVS Group technical writer and copy editor. “Copy editors, on the other hand, work on draft information, correct inappropriate grammar, check word usage, and make sure the document follows the rules of English. The copy editor also checks the document for a consistent look and feel.”
It is important to know that proofreading and copy editing are done at different levels. Each requires different skills and experience. “A higher level of copy editing may be needed, for example, when the author is providing technical information to a non-technical audience,” says Brunsvold.
Initially, proofreading was late-stage proofreading of material that had already been professionally set to type. Proofreading literally means “proof reading and checking” against the original. Today, the term is generally used to mean the ultimate control of any text-based information. There are two levels of correction:
In basic proofreading, proofreaders check verbatim copy against an annotated draft and identify errors for correction. Basic proofreaders can also check for typographical errors, repetition of small words and correct styles.
In editorial proofreading, proofreaders also check for errors in word usage (for example, using they instead of too), hyphenation, and subject-verb agreement. If required, editorial proofreaders can look for grammar problems (using which instead). They may also recommend changes in word choice or inappropriate punctuation. Editorial proofreading is usually done on material that has already been edited or reformatted.
Otherwise, copy editors review the finished copy for spelling, grammar, consistency, and format. “In many ways, being a copy editor is like taking a never-ending English exam: one’s knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage and syntax is constantly being tested,” notes Brunsvold.
At all levels of copy editing, copy editors correct errors, point out conflicting statements to the author, and ask for advice when ways to solve a problem are unclear. Throughout, copy editors fix anything that is inaccurate, confusing, unclear, or inappropriate.
Take for example the vague phrase, “Replace old component.” Depending on the context, this can mean “Return the old component to its original place” or “Replace a new component with the old one”. After a discussion with the author, the copy editor would rewrite the phrase to clarify the meaning.
Three levels of copy editing are normally adequate for most jobs: light, medium (standard), and heavy. An additional level, globalization copyediting, is used for information that is likely to be translated.
Easy copy editing (basic).
Light copy editing is very similar to editorial proofreading, but it does a more thorough check of grammar rules.
Medium copy editing (standard).
Average copy editing also checks for style consistency and relationships between text and graphics. Table of contents entries and organizational issues have also been corrected.
Heavy (content) copy editing. The main difference between medium and heavy copy editing is the level of judgment and rewriting involved. In heavy copy editing, editors try to improve the flow of the text by rewriting sections to enforce a uniform level, tone, and focus. They change passive voice to active voice and add missing articles (a, an, the). They also rearrange sentences to improve readability. This is especially true with technical copy. For example, the phrase “hermetic two-stage gear compressor” is made more readable by adding some punctuation, like this: “hermetic, two-stage, gear-driven compressor.”
Globalization copy editing
The globalization copy editor is trained in international and cultural issues and is familiar with the challenges that translators face. In addition to all the normal copy editing functions, globalization copy editing focuses on eliminating ambiguity of any form. The goal is to facilitate the translation process, working with authors to ensure that changes do not affect the technical accuracy of the information. The globalization copy editor also advises clients on aspects of writing that are affected by the international release of information. This includes characters such as “#” and “&” that do not exist in some languages or have multiple meanings. Another problem area is dates, where 2/5/02 in the United States generally means February 5, but in most European countries, it means May 2.
Both proofreading and copy editing can be valuable for documents you publish. With a copy editor’s ability to make your message clear and a proofreader’s eye for detail, your documents will be respected and professional.
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