What Does a Copy Editor Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Copy editors are the grammatical gatekeepers of the media world. They read over stories — or, as the content is called in industry terms, “copy” — and check for everything from typos to nonsensical sentences to errant commas.

Career Opportunities

Copy editors have historically worked at newspapers, book publishers, and magazines. Of course, there also are a multitude of jobs outside of the media world for copy editors. Essentially, any company producing content — websites, corporations, clothing manufacturers with catalogs — might need a copy editor to vet stories and ensure they are grammatically correct. It means that copy editors can work in a wide array of industries in the private and public sectors. Also, many copy editing positions, like some fact checking positions, are part-time because many companies, especially magazine publishers, only need copy editing done when they’re finishing (or in media terms, “closing”) an issue.

The Rules of Copy

While there are basic rules of grammar that remain fixed, a copy editor, along with journalists and writers, needs to know AP Style, which is a usage guide provided by the Associated Press — the country’s biggest newswire service. Most newspapers (and many magazines) have adopted AP style. Since this a “style” guide, it’s not providing overarching rules of grammar but, rather, specific rules that have to do with everything from the serial comma to when you write a number out in letters as opposed to listing it in numeric form.

Also, while AP style is the standard, especially among news outlets, there are other style guides.

How Do You Become a Copy Editor?

There is no formal training required to be a copy editor, but in general, people with these jobs have a love of language and an incredibly firm grasp of English usage, as well as a love for detail and a sharp eye. Just about every copy editing job requires applicants to pass copy editing tests, which entail going over a sample story and correcting mistakes. These tests, like writing tests (which many journalists and editors must take), are standard across the industry. If you're looking to enter the field without previous copy editing experience, relevant studies — a copy editing certification, for example — can help you get your foot in the door.

Money or Career Ladder: Where Your Interests Lie

The industry of your focus may depend on whether you are looking for the most employment opportunities or the highest pay. The newspaper and publishing industries are naturally where you will find the highest number of copy editors jobs available. As of May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the broadcasting industry — radio and television — among the top three industries where you're likely to find more career choices in this field.

If you want a copy editing job that pays higher than the average salary, check out the securities industry. Copy editors are an essential part of the team that publishes annual reports and financial statements for shareholders, potential investors and government regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A copy editor in the financial industry can earn nearly twice the average salary, which was $56,010 in 2015 according to the BLS.