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A Philosophy on Copyediting

Sometimes the work of a copyeditor is not well understood. Skill in the mechanics of copyediting (finding typos and errors in spelling, grammar, usage and style) is a necessary requirement for good copyediting, but there is more to the profession.

I finished reading an old book (2004), Strategic Copy Editing by John Russial. I had met the author at my annual copyediting conference. He was a newspaper editor for years, so I never thought to pick up his book as I thought it wouldn’t help me as a non-newspaper editor. I was wrong. This book can help any editor.

I was so motivated by the readings, I emailed the author. I also created a handout to share with my students of what Russial defines as “A philosophy on copyediting.” It says exactly what is hard to teach or convey in class. Editing is not about nitpicking. Per Russial, editing is a set of language and critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to interact professionally and productively with others.

He shared this about the book’s title: "I used the word "strategic" because I’ve always though editing was about more than nuts and bolts. It involved a way of thinking about the job and its purpose, and it also involved relationships, which can be as important in a publications environment as good word skills.”

In the book’s introduction, he also says editing is about:

  • making choices

  • critical thinking, analyzing, and questioning

  • working together and respecting others

  • balancing perfection and pragmatism

  • ethics

In short, editing is about both skills and strategies.

Copyediting is important work, but it is also lifelong learning. It always will be. We need to read a lot to fill our mind’s toolbox, so I highly recommend adding this book to your library. A good editor is always a good reader.

Say it with Steele, x C

Note: I followed Chicago Manual of Style and spelled “copyediting” as one word. The author followed the AP Stylebook for the book’s title with “copy editing” as two words.

Strategic Copy Editing, by John Russial

The Guilford Press © 2004