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Those who offer copy-editing services perform a most important and time-consuming task. The task's services require the editor's close attention to a document's every detail, a thorough knowledge of what to look for and of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.

To begin with, copy editors are thoroughly familiar with and comfortable applying certain universally accepted editorial and typographic marks and symbols-as described in The Chicago Manual of Style and summarized under proofreader's marks in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary-that are commonly understood by compositors working in English.

The copy-editing services function comprises two processes: mechanical editing and substantive editing. Mechanical editing involves a close reading, with an eye on consistency of capitalization, spelling, and hyphenation; on agreement of verbs and subjects; on scores of other matters of syntax; on punctuation, such as beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses; on the correct number of ellipsis points (it varies!); on numbers given either as figures or as words; and on hundreds of other, similar details of grammatical and typographic style.

In addition to regularizing those details of style, an editor performing copy-editing services is expected to catch infelicities of expression that mar an author's prose and impede communication. Such matters include but are by no means limited to dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, mixed metaphors, unclear antecedents, unintentional redundancies, faulty attempts at parallel construction, mistaken junction, overuse of an author's pet word or phrase, unintentional repetition of words, race or gender or geographic bias, and hyphenating in the predicate-unless, of course, the hyphenated term is an entry in the dictionary and therefore permanently hyphenated in every grammatical case.

The second, nonmechanical, process—substantive editing—involves rewriting, reorganizing, or suggesting more-effective ways to present material. Those performing copy-editing services identify by instinct and learn from experience how much of this kind of editing to do on a particular document. Experienced copy editors recognize, and do not tamper with, an author's unusual figures of speech or idiomatic usage. A professional editor providing copy-editing services will:
  • preserve the author's voice with a view toward the faithful reproduction of the author's manuscript.
  • silently correct inconsistencies, misusages, and misspellings solely for the purpose of clarifying the unclear.
  • know when to make an editorial change or simply suggest it.
  • know when to delete a repetition or merely point it out to the author.
  • respect an author's right to expect conscientious, intelligent editorial help.
  • never make queries that sound stupid, naive, or pedantic or that seem to reflect upon an author's scholarly ability or powers of interpretation.
  • handle untold other matters of mechanics, substance, and style.

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