A copy editor reviews texts that appear in magazines, newspapers, online publications, and books and improves them by correcting errors in grammar, spelling, flow, and logic. Editors at smaller publications may also take on a supervisory role in assigning work and ensuring that deadlines are met. Preparation for a career in copy editing is usually through a journalism or English degree at either the undergraduate or graduate level.
Copy editors typically earn at least a bachelor's degree in journalism, English or related fields. Journalism programs offer coursework relevant to the profession that allows the student to develop editing, writing, fact checking, page layout, Web design and proofreading skills. Students in these programs will also learn about ethics, media law and how technology and new platforms are changing media and publishing. The curriculum will teach students the critical thinking skills necessary to produce accurate articles. Many journalism graduate programs offer similar classes for those who wish to enter the field.
English degrees can similarly train students in essential areas of syntax and story logic while requiring in-depth exploration of literature to become familiar with a variety of writing styles. A firm grasp of the English language and the ability to capture errors and expertly lay out a story across media platforms are the keys to copy editing.
While some copy editor positions take on the traditional tasks of proofreading for errors, fact checking, headline writing and page design, others require more managerial duties such as overseeing the work of freelance contributors and enforcing strict deadlines. Copy editing duties for smaller or niche publications may include these additional responsibilities.
Successful copy editors possess the following attributes:
- Computer expertise
- Familiarity with pagination and design software
- Detail oriented
- Deadline driven
- Excellence written and verbal communication
- Meticulous proofreading
- Strong fact checking
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of editing jobs is expected to decline by 3% between 2018 and 2028 due to the continued decline of print media and the rise of online publications. Therefore, editors who are comfortable working in online media (www.bls.gov ) should have the best prospects. The copy desk can often be a springboard into higher editorial positions such as line editing or managing editor.
According to PayScale.com, the median annual salary for copy editors in September 2019 was $46,308. The BLS indicated that as of 2018, the median annual salary of editors in general (not necessarily distinguished as copy editors) was $59,480 (www.bls.gov).
Copy Editing for Books vs. Newspapers, Magazines and Web
A freelance copy editor can provide services for newspapers, websites, magazines or books, but responsibilities will vary widely depending on the publication. Whether freelance or in-house, a book copy editor checks the grammar, punctuation and spelling of a manuscript and also verifies the facts and implements changes to ensure clarity and consistency in the flow of the story or information. Copy editors for book publishers must be familiar with production design, process and the appropriate editorial markings. By contrast, those who copy edit for newspapers and magazines generally receive an article that has already been sent to a line editor for changes. In these instances, the story will ideally be sent to the copy editor to run a final check for spelling, syntax and continuity.
A degree program in journalism or English can prepare graduates for work in a modern editing environment where online media is ascendant and many traditional print jobs have disappeared. An expert eye for English grammar, punctuation and spelling is essential to success, but so are a familiarity with current computer software and the ability to work in a multimedia environment. Editors may find employment in-house with a media organization or as a freelancer.