Copy-editing and proofreading

Hands up all if you who were stopped by the title. Why does one key word have a hyphen and one not? Find an answer and, in my opinion, you are well on your way to learning the essentials of this job/craft/skill.

The Cambridge University Press handbook by Judith Butcher (3rd edition, 1992) is entitled Copy-editing. The word is not in the 1983 edition of The Oxford Paperback Dictionary. "Proof-reading" is. The Oxford Modern English Dictionary (1992) has "copy editor" but "copy-edit" — and "proofreading". Which is how the latter word is spelled in all the proofreading books I have to hand.

Karen Judd in the major training manual Copyediting: a practical guide (1988, 1990), argues: "a copyeditor does not edit copy; a copyeditor copyedits copy" and notes that The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (U.S.), second edition (1987), lists copyeditor as one word.

The usual advice is: just be consistent within the publication. I'll violate this rule immediately. This is the last time you'll see copy-edit with a hyphen in this guide, except for references to titles. In other words, I'm ready to violate good rules for the sake of an effect.

If all this is old hat to you, my guess is you are reading now because you hope I can give you a foolproof system for organizing your way through a publication production schedule or ensuring that you catch every typo. I'll try. But you have to apply a system, even if you don't go along with everything I say. The times I've come a cropper have been when I skipped obvious steps I knew I should have taken (usually I was trying to save time, or escape bothering someone who was busy).

The other reason you may have come to this page is to find out what you can do immediately to improve your editing and proofing skills. So here, straight off, is my list of what you can do:

Ten steps to take now