Article: “How to Copyedit The Atlantic”

If you’ve ever been curious about the copyediting process for magazines and journals, this is the article for you!

We start the process by reading each piece four times among ourselves. I might read the piece on my monitor, read it again on a printout, and then pass it to one of my fellow copy editors to repeat the process. We alternate reading onscreen and on page because we tend to catch different things with each method—stylistic errors jump out on the screen; timeline issues or abrupt shifts in narrative are clearer on the page. On my first read of Ross’s piece, for example, I flagged its abundance of metaphors: The satellite dish looked like an inverted mushroom cap and like God’s fingerprint; its surface looked like a taut bedsheet. Metaphors can bring vividness to image descriptions, of course, but like salt sprinkled over a finished dish, they’re best used in moderation. On the page, meanwhile, I found myself confused between the two extraterrestrial-research teams we mentioned, so I left a note asking the editor to clarify.

How to Copyedit The Atlantic by Karen Ostergren

Article: “Not Busy, Focused”

Did you wake up this morning, immediately turn on some kind of technology—your phone, your computer—and get down to work? Me too.

I’ve spent the last few years trying to be far more mindful of slowing down, taking my time, and being present. But sometimes I slip, and these past two weeks have been fast, quick, and over before I knew it.

Life is not a race, and just because we’re busy doesn’t mean we’re being productive or even doing things to our best ability. Here is an article that never fails to remind me of that—and what to do about it:

“Take a look around: everyone is multitasking. We’re doing more than we’ve ever done, attempting to fill every interstitial zone with more work. Every downtown scene is the same: heads tilted downward, faces lost in glowing screens, technology turning people into zombies …”

Daring Greatly

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely at least heard the name Brené Brown. She’s “spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.” What do any of those have to do with writing? Plenty.

Every one of you writers out there knows how much courage it takes to put a single word on the page, how vulnerable it makes you feel to pursue publishing those words, how much shame you feel when you get a “no” (how in the world do we not take that personally?!), and how much empathy you feel when you meet another writer struggling out there in the world.

So if you’re feeling a little low about it all, I highly recommend two things:

  1. Try reading one of Brown’s books, like Daring Greatly or The Power of Vulnerability.
  2. Watch one of Brown’s TED Talks or her new Netflix special, The Call to Courage.

You will find that you are not alone, you are not powerless, and you are not done!


As an editor, I’ve seen everything from the blatant stealing of someone else’s work (seriously—this “author” had cut and pasted pieces of published articles from the internet and put them together in a book as his own work) to completely unintentional infringement (where the writer acknowledged that the words were part of a quote through the use of quotation marks but didn’t cite the author, book title, or anything else to tell where the quote had come from).

The thing is, no matter whether it’s intentional or not, plagiarism is still plagiarism. And it isn’t just ethically wrong; it can also lead to legal issues.

With that in mind, take a look at an article by LegalZoom to help you know exactly what constitutes plagiarism—and why you should care:

If you use another person’s work and do not attribute that work to the author, including copying text verbatim, paraphrasing a phrase or summarizing an idea, you are essentially committing plagiarism. Plagiarism usually occurs when a writer fails to:

* cite quotes or ideas written by another author;
* enclose direct text in quotes; or
* put summaries and/or paraphrases in the his or her own words.

Proofreading and Copyediting: When?

Last time, we talked about how to choose between copyediting and proofreading.

Today, I want to say a few things about when to have copyediting and proofreading done.

First, don’t bother with copyediting or proofreading until your project is 100% done. You will waste your time and, more importantly, your money. (Note: This doesn’t apply to developmental editing, which would take place when you have a first draft or, sometimes, even before.)

Copyediting is done when you’re finished with the final draft, but still have some elements you’re not quite sure about. This can be continuity (a character’s eye color changes throughout the book, for example, and you want to make sure every instance is caught and corrected); clarity (certain words might not be familiar to your intended audience, and you need suggestions on how to fix that); story or character arc; flow; unintentional plagiarism; or even the bibliography. This is also a great time to have a critique done!

Proofreading, however, isn’t tackled until you’re done done—as in, there are no more revisions, no more questions, no more anything. Your characters are all set, your story is solid, and you’re ready to move on to the publishing phase.

Proofreading should not be done if you plan to go back through the editor’s corrections and change things, as you will almost certainly end up with errors prior to publishing—not a good thing, not to mention it negates the point of paying for proofreading in the first place.

And remember, the only things a proofread will correct are spelling, punctuation, and grammar. There will be no reworking of awkward phrases, content suggestions, etc. (which is one of the reasons proofreading generally costs less than copyediting).

So before you sign on for proofreading, make sure you’re ready. But once it’s done, you’re done!