10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Copy-Editor Happy

10. Set the spell check on your word processor to American or British English
-or/our, -ize/ise … The list of spelling differences between American and British English is enough to fill a style manual. Do us a favor and make sure your spell check dictionary is consistent with the publisher’s specifications.

9. Use only one space between sentences
We’re not typing with typewriters anymore. You only need one space between sentences. Trust me. Use the find and replace function to change all two spaces to one space.

8. Include all relevant citation information
I can’t do my job if I can’t find the page numbers for your quotes or if I can’t find the book because you listed the wrong author, title, edition, or publication year. Please give me all the information you have and let me be the judge if I need it or not. Chances are, I need it.

7. Know the difference between “which” and “that”
If you don’t know the difference, see Strunk and White: “That is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive” (rule 59). See also rule 3: “Nonrestrictive relative clauses are parenthetic, as are similar clauses introduced by conjunctions indicating time or place. Commas are therefore needed. A nonrestrictive clause is one that does not serve to identify or define the antecedent noun.” And if you’re writing fiction, you should be working to get rid of all “that”s anyway.

6. Get yourself a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Manual of Style
I know that you were traumetized by this stuff in high school, but it’s kind of a big deal. You can usually find versions online, but go ahead and get a hard copy, or use the copy in your local library. And speaking of style manuals, you have a copy of S&W’s “The Elements of Style” already, don’t you?

5. Deadlines
Meet them. We’re all busy people. Learn time management.

4. Use the dash, en-dash, and em-dash correctly
Dashes are used in compound words. En dashes (so called because they have the same width as the letter n) are used between number ranges. They look like this: p. 96–110 and the can be created by either holding option down while typing a dash, or by holding Alt down and typing 0150. Em dashes—so called because they have the same width as the letter m—are used in sentences to set off clauses and look like this. You can create an em dash by holding shift and option down while typing a dash, or by holding Alt down and typing 0151.

3. Not only, but also
“Not only” sets up a parallel construction, which must be followed by its logical conclusion, “but also.”

2. Keep verb tenses straight
If you begin a sentence in the present tense, make sure the rest of the sentence follows in present tense. And while we’re on verbs, know the difference between present, past, perfect, and imperfect. I shouldn’t need to remind you about the use of active versus passive voice.

1. Remember that we’re not perfect.
Re-read all of the documents we give you to catch any mistakes we might have missed. We have at least four sets of eyes in-house looking at a document before we move on to production, but we still miss things with regularity. If you know grammar and punctuation rules yourself, there is a better chance that the mistake that makes it to press won’t be in your article.


4 thoughts on “10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Copy-Editor Happy

  1. magpiewrites says:

    Since I'm starting the revision process right now, this is an especially helpful and timely post, thank you!It's amazing how many of my crit partners missed changes in tense in my first draft. I think the person who reads for pleasure is unconsciously 'correcting' while reading and that's why tense changes are often missed. This is a big one for me since I began the book in the past tense and finished it in the present tense. Revision may kill me.My husband's a graphic designer, so he should be terrible at copy editing, but he's actually amazing. He's always correcting my commas and my em and en dashes. BUT he never told me how to use them. Thanks Anna!

  2. Anna says:

    No problem! I found at least one embarrassing mistakes since writing this article last week. See no. 1: we're not perfect! The goal is to make your document look and feel as professional as possible, but even professionals miss things.In light of my typo, I shall add an addendum: Re-read your work with fresh eyes and as many times as possible.

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