2 Preparing copy

2.1 Definitions

2.1.1 Introduction

Historically, handwritten copy (the text) was called manuscript and the term lingers on even today, although text printed out should more properly be called typescript or script.

Production workflow

The technical stages of the traditional production process, which transforms the material from typescript to printed work, are, very generally speaking (and not always in this order):

  • • development editing

  • • copy-editing

  • • design

  • • typesetting

  • • proofreading

  • • correction (the last two stages may be repeated on successive sets of ‘revised proofs’)

  • • proof checking

  • • indexing

  • • final correction

  • • printing and binding.

Some of these steps may be omitted, depending on the readership or on budget and time constraints. See the following sections for a brief description of development editing and copy-editing (2.1.2), design (2.1.3), reading and checking of the proofs (2.1.5), and typesetting (2.1.4). These specialist operations are frequently outsourced. Indexing is detailed in Chapter 19.

Modern production methods rarely proceed in such a linear fashion and are focused on creating content that can be repurposed for many different publishing outputs, not just print.

The content is stored in a neutral format, which means that it is typically coded with XML tags. XML allows the creation of customized markup languages. It allows content to be structured, stored, and transmitted in a form that is independent of software or hardware. Crucially, the XML tags describe content rather than presentation, e.g. a tag such as <strong> can be rendered as bold text in print or as red text on a website. The XML can subsequently be transformed to generate outputs as diverse as HTML for web publication, EPUB files for ebooks, interactive whiteboard material for classrooms, online learning environments, and archive files, as well as traditional print. XML files can also be packaged along with, or accessed by, custom software in the form of an app.

The preparation of files in a digital workflow usually starts with pre-editing (basic file cleanup and tagging), and the processes involved in editorial quality control (editing, checking, testing) are flexible and can take place in parallel as well as serially. This means that, in web publishing especially, traditional boundaries between editing as an initial stage and proofreading as a final stage have been eroded as these roles have merged and a web editor may be required to do several additional tasks (see 2.1.2). Nevertheless, editing and proofreading remain discrete tasks in many publishing houses, so are treated separately in 2.1.2 and 2.1.5.

2.1.2 Copy-editing

Whereas a development editor liaises closely with the author during the writing stage, the copy-editor is responsible for the technical preparation of the author’s material for publication. These responsibilities, at their simplest, comprise:

  • • Correcting, or raising queries about, the author’s spelling, word use, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure

  • • standardizing the presentation of the material in respect of its ‘editorial style’ and conventions (see 2.3)

  • • ensuring all elements of the work—that is, headings, displayed quotations, lists, figure captions, references, note copy, etc.—are tagged correctly. These tags are often applied at the pre-editing stage by the XML supplier, but the copy-editor must verify their accuracy. If pre-editing has not been performed, the copy-editor must code or tag the material in the first instance. The tag can be in the form of a word-processor paragraph style or a tag inserted in the file, such as <H1> closed up to a main heading, or an encircled code written in the margin of hard copy. This is a key task for generating correct XML tagging (see 2.1.1); it also highlights features that require the designer’s attention (2.1.3)

  • • indicating where items such as tables, figures, and illustrations should appear in the text to ensure that they are introduced in appropriate places when the pages are assembled

  • • cross-checking the material to ensure that elements purporting to be identical or related match each other (for example that the chapter titles on the contents page match the chapter openings, that the discussion in text relates accurately to the content of pictures and their captions), cross-references lead the reader to the right destination, note numbers refer correctly to the notes themselves, and so on

  • • monitoring the factual integrity of the material (for example keeping track of and regularizing the spelling of proper names, ensuring that columns of numerical data add up, checking that the author defines and uses special terms consistently)

  • • correcting the electronic file accurately or marking the typescript clearly to ensure that the material can be set in type or converted to digital format with minimum difficulty

  • • being alert to any material that has unsuitable cultural references, or seems potentially defamatory (see 20.5), blasphemous (20.10), or contravenes copyright (20.1–20.4) or that is not inclusive, i.e. is biased with regard to gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability, or that deals with sensitive areas in an offensive or outmoded way.

Dictionaries such as the Oxford Dictionary of English or the Concise Oxford English Dictionary discuss debatable points of usage, such as the split infinitive and the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb, and may usefully be consulted by editors who are uncertain whether an author’s phrasing is acceptable English or appropriate to the given context.

It is now generally regarded as old-fashioned or gender biased to use he in reference to a person of unspecified sex, as in every child needs to know that he is loved. He or she is often preferred, and in formal contexts is probably the best solution, but can become tiresomely long-winded when used frequently. Alternatively use of they in this sense (everyone needs to feel that they matter) is generally accepted in speech and in writing, especially where it occurs after an indefinite pronoun such as everyone or someone, but should not be imposed by an editor if an author has used he or she consistently.

The level of responsibility the copy-editor carries for the structure of the material, factual accuracy, clarity of expression, and other authorial concerns is determined by the publisher, and should be clearly articulated in the brief. The editor should always be sensitive to the author’s voice, and not undertake substantive editing or rewriting without discussing it with the author or publisher first.

On-screen (online) editing

Most copy-editing is done in word-processing software, although an editor may also be required to work in spreadsheet or presentation software, text editors, and in content management system editing interfaces (see 2.1.1). The copy-editor should be aware of the internal software tools that allow more efficient and accurate editing, such as templates and styles, global search and replace, macros, revision marking, and shortcut keys, as well as the pitfalls that can accompany these features. For example, it is unwise to replace text globally in documents containing quotations or bibliographic references, where original spelling must be retained. Add-ons can also usefully contribute to the editor’s arsenal, such as consistency checkers, bibliographic software, clipboard managers, and third-party macros. Although copy-editing can be successfully completed without any of these tools or features, an editor practised in these techniques can work more effectively, and produce files that are optimized for the next production stage, whether print or digital.

See also 2.4 for a discussion of proofreading on-screen.

Web editing

Copy-editing and proofreading may be required at any stage in the creation and maintenance of websites, a cyclical process that may see the roles merged (see 2.1.1). Web editors should be aware of the differences between how a web page is used compared with print (more information can be found in the many works on usability) and bear in mind that the user may access the material from one of several portals (links), and not in the linear fashion found in printed matter. In essence this involves breaking up the information into smaller chunks that focus on the essentials, interspersed with concise headings and well-planned links.

In addition to the copy-editing tasks described earlier in 2.1.2, web editors may also be required to:

  • • repurpose existing text into a more suitable form for the website

  • • write links and summaries

  • • compose metadata to optimize the site for search engines

  • • source images and other media

  • • test and comment on interactive elements such as video

  • • check for accessibility issues, including writing alternative labels (alt tags) for images, for interpretation by screen readers

  • • create or update the site map.


Proof-editing is the process whereby unedited material that is laid out in pages, with any figures, tables, notes, and running heads in situ, is corrected. The layout may have been done in word-processing or desktop-publishing software; sometimes only PDFs are supplied. The source is usually a corporate or self-publishing author, typically seeking proofreading services. It may not be apparent at first that more in-depth treatment is needed, so such material should be assessed carefully. If the word-processor files are available, amendments are usually done with revision tracking. It is essential that the author/client understands that the level of intervention needed is likely to be greater than a ‘normal’ proofread, so it is advisable to send them some sample marked pages to make this clear, as this may also affect negotiations over time and budget. Otherwise the usual requirements for a copy-edit or substantive edit apply, coupled with suggestions for improvements in layout if applicable. PDFs will need to be marked like a page proof (see 2.1.5), although if extensive changes are needed, it may be preferable to convert the files into word-processor documents to work with more efficiency on-screen; you may need to explain your reasons for this and seek approval before proceeding.

2.1.3 Design

The designer’s role is to determine the appearance of the material on the printed page or screen. The designer creates a design template in which are included the typefaces, type sizes, spacing, and position on the page of all the elements of the material identified earlier. Much of this is done via the template styles, and if the documents have been prepared correctly, the word-processor paragraph and character styles can be imported into the typesetting template and mapped to the designer’s styles, saving a great deal of time. This is one reason why it is desirable to format a document with word-processor styles. The designer may also produce specimen pages for approval by the publisher and author, and as guidance for the typesetter.

2.1.4 Typesetting

The typesetter produces a proof, by applying the design to the material in the electronic file (see 2.1.3), or by rekeying the material if the file is not available, or is incompatible, or unsuitable for some reason.

2.1.5 Proofreading

A proof is, as the name suggests, the means of ‘proving’ (or trying out) the typesetter’s work. Most books today are ‘set straight to page’ and the first proof is a page proof.

Historically, text was set as a galley proof, in which the typographic design was applied but the material was not paginated and extraneous items such as footnotes, tables, figures, and illustrations were not integrated. The purpose was to allow the textual material to be checked and corrected—that is, to be finalized—before pages were made up because corrections after pagination might cause expensive disruption to the layout. This was especially true for books with complex layout but now it is easier to generate page proofs with low-resolution image scans (see 16.4.1) and adjust the text (copy-fitting) and other elements accordingly; another round of page proofs is then generated for further checking. Although modern systems make page make-up much more flexible, corrections should still not be made unless essential because they can cause delay, and run the risk of introducing new errors.

The proofreader’s task is to read and correct the proof. If material has been rekeyed, it is best to read the proof ‘against copy’ but usually it is set from XML generated from word-processor files (see 2.1.3 and 2.1.4), so is read without reference to the typescript, known as reading ‘cold’ or ‘blind’ or ‘by eye’. In general terms the proofreader’s responsibilities comprise:

  • • checking for errors—either the typesetter’s, in rekeyed material, or ones the copy-editor has missed, or the author’s, in text that is being proof-edited (see 2.1.2)

  • • ensuring that the transformation of the material into typeset and paginated form has not resulted in poor presentation (such as bad word breaks where words are hyphenated at line endings, a short line at the top of a page, a table, figure, or illustration wrongly positioned, or a running head on a page that should have none)

  • • checking the integrity of the design—that is, ensuring that all like elements have been set in like manner (the proofreader is not asked to verify the technical implementation of the design, only to check by eye that it has been consistently applied)

  • • ensuring that page references (for example on the contents page or in cross-references) have been correctly inserted.

Most of the first two points are dealt with by the typesetting software, and copy-editors and proofreaders should be aware that page makeup is now frequently wholly automated so they should not work on the assumption that the typesetter will see any comments left in the copy-edited file. Prefer to send an accompanying email with the files if there is anything that needs to be brought to the typesetter’s attention.

The changes marked on the first proof are executed by the typesetter and a revised proof is generated for checking by the proofreader. One or more further stages of correcting and checking may be needed before the material can be passed for press or signed off as ready to be printed and bound. See 2.1.1 for discussion of conversion of electronic files into digital products.

Reference to 2.1 Definitions in Language Resources

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New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms