The job of the copy editor is much more involved than simply correcting grammatical errors. In journalism “copy editors are expected to be fully qualified journalists.” (Walsh). It may be easy to confuse a copy editor with a fact checker. Fact checking can play a role in copy editing, but checking facts is typically a separate job (Walsh). The normal tasks of copy editors include remedying grammatical errors, checking basic facts, setting proper typesetting codes, and rewriting pieces of the editorial. Copy editors are often much more involved in the research process than their title allows. In general, they are expected to be both skilled researchers and writers.

Overall, the main goal of copy editors is “to remove any obstacles between the reader and what the author wants to convey,” (Butcher 2). This means that the gifted copy editor is a perfectionist who will check and re-check small details to ensure accuracy while also keeping a non-antagonistic relationship with the author or reporter. While it may seem that a copy editor must be an expert in whatever topic is being edited, it is more helpful if the copy editor is as informed as the general public, to ensure that the writing will make sense to all readers. Copy editors are skilled researchers and writers who are the last line between the text and publication.

Qualifications and Necessary Skills

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Grammar, proofreading, and editing skills
  • A visual sense for layout
  • Strong communication skills
  • Highly organized
  • Cognate interests


  • Serve as writers, editors, proofreaders, or project managers for publications
  • Conduct research, statistical analysis, and fact-checking work and research done by subject matter experts
  • Create publication layout and designs based on successful visual rhetoric techniques and methods
  • Work on company publication projects, such as ads, annual reports, books, brochures, grant proposals, Internet content, journal abstracts and articles, magazine and newspaper articles, newsletters, patient education materials, posters, press releases, regulatory documents, scripts, and training materials
  • Change word choices, abbreviations, and punctuation to indicate the meaning the author intents
  • Check that no quotes or illustrations infringe upon copyrights
  • Ensure that illustrations, tables, and the bibliography are correctly referenced within the document

Newspapers and Journals

Copy editors are incredibly important for any newspaper because they are the last line of defense before any work is published. One of their many responsibilities is reading through articles that are going to be published, looking for any type of libel or grammatical errors. They also are given the ability to re-write or even pull an entire piece if they believe it is not up to their newspaper’s standards. Copy editors write all of the major headlines and captions for many of the pictures throughout the newspaper. Besides working in a full-time capacity for newspapers or journals, copy editors have the option to work as freelance editors for other organizations.


Newspaper copy editors starting salaries begin at $29,000-$40,000. Copy editors with 10+ years’ experience make upwards of $62,000. Freelance copy editors earn between $14,000-$49,000 per year.

Major Newspapers and Journals

  • The New York Times
  • The Chicago Tribune
  • The Wall Street Journal

Medical Documents

Medical editors are communicators responsible for writing, editing, and developing materials about medicine and health. They do this by gathering, organizing, interpreting, and presenting information in a manner appropriate for the target audience. Medical editors need to be aware of ethical standards in order to act as a liaison between researchers, physicians, and the audience.


In a 2007 survey conducted by the American Medical Writers Association, an entry-level editor with at least a bachelor’s degree salary averaged $60,167. According to the same survey, the average full-time salary for medical communicators was $82,232.

Major Medical Journals

  • The New England Journal of Medicine
  • British Medical Journal
  • Nature Medicine

Publishing Houses

Copy editors work in conjunction with authors to create the finished product. The responsibilities of editors include choosing manuscripts for publication, contacting authors through the writing process, meticulously proofreading the work, and communicating with other departments in the company.

Editorial Positions

Acquisitions Editor

Developmental Editor— The primary responsibility of developmental editors is maintaining contact with the authors of texts. The developmental editor directly consults the author. Authors frequently need to be contacted during the writing process. They comment extensively on the structure and appropriateness of the work

Managing and Executive Editors— Managing and executive editors run the staff’s budget meetings and approve or deny new books. They maintain communication with the marketing, sales and publishing departments. The final step in the editorial process is layout and design which is overseen by managing and executive editors.


Executive editors earn on average $90,000 a year, while entry-level positions, such as copy editing, earn $30,000 a year.

Major Publishing Companies

  • Hearst Corporation
  • HarperCollins
  • Penguin Books
  • Simon & Schuster
  • RandomHouse

Works Cited

Butcher, J. (1992). Copy-editing: The Cambridge handbook for editors, authors, and publishers. (3rd ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Copy edit. In (2013). London, UK: Oxford College. Retrieved from

Copy editor. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Summary report for: 27-3041.00 editors. (2010). Retrieved from

Walsh, Bill (1995). The Lot of Journalism’s Noble Misfits. [ONLINE]  Available at: [Last Accessed 15 February 2013].