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

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!