Career Development

What Does a Copy Editor Do?

Find out what a copy editor does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a copy editor.

Copy editors are responsible for ensuring the quality of written content. They commonly work on pieces that will be published in print or online, but they may also be called upon to edit internal documents or other materials used by their company or organization.

Copy editors typically work closely with writers and reporters to ensure that their writing is clear, consistent, and free of errors. They may also work with designers to ensure that copy fits within a given layout or design template.

Copy Editor Job Duties

Copy editors have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Reviewing content to ensure that it is factually accurate, properly cited, and free of grammatical errors
  • Proofreading text for spelling errors, formatting issues, typos, and other mistakes that may detract from the meaning of the text
  • Providing feedback to authors regarding language style, tone, and word choice to ensure that content is understood by the intended audience
  • Reviewing content for plagiarism, checking sources for accuracy, and ensuring that bibliographies are complete and correctly formatted
  • Correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors using computer software programs such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat
  • Reviewing material for libel risk, helping to ensure that it does not contain potentially defamatory statements or material that could lead to a lawsuit if published
  • Editing published materials to conform to an organization’s style guidelines and to ensure that they contain proper syntax and word usage
  • Preparing manuscripts for publication by cutting extraneous material, rewriting sections to improve flow, and correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • Communicating with authors to obtain additional information about their topics or ideas for improving their writing

Copy Editor Salary & Outlook

Copy editors’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of company they work for.

  • Median Annual Salary: $52,500 ($25.24/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $75,000 ($36.06/hour)

The employment of copy editors is expected to grow slower than average over the next decade.

Demand for copy editors depends largely on the demand for print and digital advertising, which is expected to decline over the decade. However, demand for copy editors will continue to be strong in other industries, such as healthcare and law firms, where copy editing is necessary.

Related: In-Depth Copy Editor Salary Guide

Copy Editor Job Requirements

A copy editor typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Copy editors need at least a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communications or another closely related field. Some employers prefer to hire copy editors who have a master’s degree in English or journalism.

Training & Experience: Copy editors typically receive on-the-job training. They may shadow other copy editors to learn the specific style and format requirements of their employer. They may also learn how to use the content management system and other software the publication uses.

Copy editors can also receive training through internships. During an internship, a copy editor can learn how to use the style guidelines of a publication and how to edit content for online publication. They can also learn how to work with reporters and other copy editors.

Certifications & Licenses: Though not required, many copy editor jobs require certification. A copy editor can earn this credential to show their dedication to the profession and increase their earning potential.

Copy Editor Skills

Copy editors need the following skills in order to be successful:

Editing: As a copy editor, you may be responsible for editing a variety of different types of content, including articles, advertisements, social media posts and more. Having strong editing skills can help you ensure that the content you work on is clear, concise and error-free.

Fact-checking: Fact-checking is the ability to verify the accuracy of information. Copy editors use this skill to ensure the information in a piece of writing is accurate and consistent with other information. This ensures the quality of the content is high and the information is reliable.

Research: Copy editors should be able to conduct research to ensure they understand the topic they’re editing. This can include reading background information on the topic, researching the author’s credentials and verifying the accuracy of the information. This can help ensure the content is accurate and consistent throughout the document.

Communication: Copy editors often work with other members of a publication’s staff, including writers, designers and other editors. They must be able to communicate effectively with these individuals to ensure they understand the purpose of the article and the intended tone of the copy. They also use communication skills to collaborate with other copy editors to ensure consistency throughout the publication.

Organization: Copy editors often work with multiple people on a single project, so it’s important for them to be able to organize their time and resources effectively. They also need to be able to organize their written work and ensure that it’s free of errors before it’s published.

Copy Editor Work Environment

Copy editors work in a variety of settings, including newspapers, magazines, book publishing houses, advertising agencies, public relations firms, and corporate communications departments. They usually work in well-lit, comfortable offices and have access to the latest editing software and technology. Copy editors typically work a standard 40-hour week, although they may occasionally have to work overtime to meet deadlines. The work can be stressful at times, especially when deadlines are tight, but most copy editors find the work to be challenging and stimulating.

Copy Editor Trends

Here are three trends influencing how copy editors work. Copy editors will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Rise of the Digital Editor

The role of the digital editor is quickly becoming one of the most important positions in publishing. As more and more content is published online, editors need to be able to ensure that it is high-quality and meets the standards of their company.

Copy editors can play a key role in this process by helping to screen content before it is published and ensuring that it is accurate and readable. In addition, they can also help to create content that is visually appealing and easy to navigate.

More Focus on Local Content

As businesses continue to focus on local content, copy editors will need to develop skills in order to meet the needs of their clients.

This trend means that copy editors will need to be familiar with the local culture and customs of the areas where they work. They will also need to be able to write content that is specific to the needs of their clients’ customers. In addition, copy editors will need to be able to manage deadlines effectively in order to meet the demands of their clients.

A Greater Emphasis on User Experience

User experience (UX) has become an increasingly important factor for businesses looking to improve their customer interactions. This is because UX can have a significant impact on how users feel about a product or service, which can lead to increased loyalty and sales.

As copy editors, you can play a critical role in creating a positive user experience by paying attention to details such as layout, font choice, and wording. By doing so, you can help to create products that are both functional and beautiful.

How to Become a Copy Editor

A career as a copy editor can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to start off on the right foot by learning the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You should also familiarize yourself with the style guides used in your industry.

Once you have the basics down, it’s time to put your skills to use. Find an internship or freelance job that will give you real-world experience editing text. This is a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing for different audiences.

As you progress in your career, continue to hone your skills and stay up-to-date on the latest trends in publishing. Read books and articles about copy editing, attend workshops and conferences, and participate in online forums where professionals exchange ideas.

Related: How to Write a Copy Editor Resume

Advancement Prospects

Copy editors typically start out working on small projects or on less important sections of a publication. With experience and a demonstrated ability to produce high-quality work, they are given more responsibility and may eventually be promoted to senior positions. Some copy editors eventually become managing editors, executive editors, or even publishers.

Copy editors who demonstrate an aptitude for writing or for working with numbers often move into other positions. For example, those with writing skills may become reporters, editors, or freelance writers. Those with an aptitude for numbers may move into positions such as business reporter or financial editor.

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