Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes: Copy Editing

March 18th, 2014     by Jessie Hale     Comments

Illustration: Erin McPhee

I’m hunched over the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, my brow furrowed. Should “socioeconomic” have a hyphen? Should Québec have an accent over the first “e”? How many “r’s” in “riot grrrl”? Forget about how to hyphenate “two-spirit”; they don’t even have an entry for that.

Welcome to my world as copy editor for Shameless!

After all the articles have been assigned, written, edited and fact checked, they come to me. What exactly does a copy editor do? You’re probably thinking of fixing grammatical and spelling errors, and that’s definitely a huge part of it. But a copy editor does a lot more. I also look for consistency, which means that every sentence in every article has to conform to Shameless’s house style. House style covers a lot of stuff you might consider pretty fussy: whether to put spaces around dashes (we do), how to express dates and percentages (January 26, 1999; 10 percent), whether to spell out numbers over 10 (we don’t), how to treat words like “internet” (we keep it lowercase) and “hip hop” (two words, no hyphen) and so on. Fussy though it may be, it makes the end product more polished and smoother to read.

Copy editing Shameless also means doing my part to ensure that the words used are sensitive to all the communities that read our magazine. This can sometimes be tough, because dictionaries and style guides don’t often address the ways in which words can be used to harm and oppress underprivileged communities. For example, the Canadian Press Stylebook strongly discourages the use of the singular “they,” since they don’t acknowledge that “he or she” excludes a lot of folks who don’t conform to either side of the gender binary. They definitely don’t acknowledge other non-binary gender pronouns, like “ze.” As copy editor, it’s really important to remember that the “authoritative” dictionaries and style guides might not be the best place to turn when thinking about how to refer to folks of a particular race, gender expression or ability. Of course, the Shameless community is always happy to help when I need it!

I read each article twice: once slowly and carefully, to catch small errors, and once a little faster, to get a better sense of flow and catch anything I missed the first time around. Each article takes me between half an hour and two hours to copy edit, depending on its length. While I see the rest of the Shameless crew at editorial meetings and events, most of my contribution to the magazine is done solo, with a cup of tea, a lyric-free playlist on Songza and my overweight calico cat, Tesla.

For a long time I wanted to get more involved with feminist activism, but didn’t really know how. I love using a skill I’m good at to contribute to work that I think is incredibly important. And I love getting to know the amazing Shameless crew, who volunteer a huge amount of time to keep this labour of love moving.

Interested in helping to make Shameless as clear, consistent and correct as possible? We always need casual volunteers to help out at our proofreading sessions! (“Proofreading” is like copy editing, but it’s done after the magazine has been all laid out.) Head over to our Get Involved page to find out more!

Tags: behind the scenes, copy editing, get involved, media savvy

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