Individual copy editors consult a range of manuals for copy editing. These include The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and Words into Type. Editors also set a specific dictionary as the authority, such as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
Using these references as guides, copy editors will correct errors and fix inconsistencies in details like number treatment (should it be a numeral or spelled out?), compound words (should it be open, closed, or hyphenated?), and punctuation (should it be a comma or semicolon?). For example, on this page we’ve decided to write “copy editing” and “copy editor” without hyphenation. And then we’ve had a copy editor take a look at it to make sure we had done so consistently.
To keep track of the styles in use in a single manuscript, copy editors create a style sheet as they edit. A novel’s style sheet should include notes on typography, punctuation, numbers, and spellings; a list of characters, real people, and places; and a timeline of events. A detailed style sheet is an organized way for an editor to maintain consistency and communicate a manuscript’s style to the author and future proofreaders.
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So, whether you choose to use an established, professional copy editor, or choose to give it a try on your own – make sure you know your resources!