Job Description of a Copy Editor

by Laurie Brenner

Anywhere you find material being professionally written for a reader's consumption, behind the scenes you'll find the copy editor who ensures the article meets the publisher's standards. Copy editors work for newspapers, news outlets, online publishers, private content producers, book publishers or might work as freelancers. Copy editors are also known as gatekeepers, as they ensure that written material is suitable for publication.


The primary jobs of a copy editor are to check an article for readability, proofread it for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and confirm that the article's style and format meets editorial policy. Copy editors adhere to the publishing style of their publisher and can offer comments and suggestions to the writer to help make the article better. Some may rewrite parts of articles to make them easier to understand, and to improve the article's voice and flow. They may even make layout suggestions or help in the design process.


A copy editor tries to make an article clear and concise. Words are often rearranged by the editor to make the article the best it can be. A copy editor has the reader's interest in mind when she reviews material for publication. She has an in-depth knowledge of what appeals to the readership and accepts or rejects an article based on its clarity. She may also send it back to the writer for revisions per her comments.

Facts, Dates and Statistics

When a writer quotes facts, dates or statistics in an article, the copy editor vets the information for accuracy. If the writer makes a typo and uses the wrong date, the editor might send the article back for correction or make the corrections herself. The copy editor warrants that all facts, dates and statistics in an article, document or book are correct when she accepts the document for publication.

Style Manuals and Formatting

Copy editors rely on style manuals for formatting articles, books or documents as per editorial standards of the publishing company. Copy editors might use "The Associated Press Stylebook" or "The Chicago Manual of Style" depending if the article is news-based or the written material is intended for a book. She may also work with her company to set in-house editorial policy to which writers must adhere.

Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the annual median wage of editors was $51,470 in May 2010. Traditional editor jobs are on the decline as the newspaper, magazine and book publishing industries change due to online competition, though online jobs are expected to increase. Because of these factors, the BLS expects little to no change in the number of new jobs in the 10-year period from 2010 to 2020. Freelance copy editors can earn from $30 to $90 per hour, depending on the specific editing job, according to the Editorial Freelancer Association.

About the Author

As a native Californian, artist, businessperson, contractor, journalist and published author, Laurie Reeves began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. In 2003, she and her husband moved into the home she designed, they built and decorated. Reeves graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.

Photo Credits

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