Lexicon:Copy Edit

  • Copy editing (also copy-editing or copyediting, sometimes abbreviated ce) is the process of reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.

    Discovering that pages need basic copyediting may surprise new visitors to the Lexicon, but this is an "encyclopedia that anyone can edit". Articles need simple improvements that you can make without being an expert in the subject. Copyediting involves the "five Cs": making the article clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent. The following is a guide for new copyeditors.

    How to do basic copyediting

    For general help with editing, see Lexicon:How to edit a page
    1. Scan the article for errors or ways it can be improved. There is a list of common mistakes below.
    2. Edit the page by clicking the edit button.
    3. Make your changes and fill out an edit summary. It's fine to describe your changes as "copyediting", or abbreviate the word however you like (the most commonly used abbreviation is "ce").
    4. Preview your change, if you like, and click save

    Common mistakes to fix

    This is a short but not exhaustive list of some of the more common errors you may find in articles.

    Grammar checkers

    • grammarly.com has a free plugin for popular web browsers, which checks not only spelling, but grammar, usage, and punctuation.
    • Microsoft Word or OpenOffice have built-in grammar checkers

    Commonly confused words

    • its and it's; there, their, and they're; your, you're, and you, lose and loose; lie and lay (and their tenses).

    Capitalization and formatting

    • Words defined, described, or referenced as words should be italicized. E.g.: "The term style also refers to the layout of an article".
    • Lexicon article headings should generally be noun phrases (History of...) and not prepositional phrases (About the history of...).
    • Headings begin with a single capital letter, i.e. they use sentence case. The only other capital letters in headings are in proper names and acronyms.
    • Titles of works of art (paintings, sculpture), plays and operas, television series, films, novels and nonfiction books, song cycles, and long poems should be italicized rather than put in quotation marks, e.g., Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
    • Titles of songs, short stories, individual episodes of television series, and brief poems, e.g. "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", should be in quotation marks. Italics, however, are required for a song cycle such as Winterreise or the title of a longer poem such as Four Quartets. Individual episode titles of television series need quotation marks, while the series name itself is italicized: "Welcome to the Hellmouth" is the premier episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


    • Location constructions such as Vilnius, Lithuania require a comma after the second element, e.g. He was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, after the country had gained independence.
    • The month, day, year style of writing dates requires a comma after the year, e.g. On September 15, 1947, she began her first year at Harvard.
    • Decade names should not include an apostrophe before the s, e.g.: She was born in the 1980s. Generally, don't refer to a decade without its century.
    • Make sure that apostrophes are used correctly and watch out for greengrocers' apostrophes.


    • Avoid excessively formal phrases and words, e.g., due to the fact that for "because" and utilize for "use".
    • Check articles for unneccessary words and redundant phrases. Vigorous, effective writing is clear and concise.
    • Quotations should not be changed, except for trivial spelling and typographic errors. Otherwise, obvious errors and censorship in the original can be marked with [sic]. Legitimate insertions and omissions are acceptable if marked by square brackets and ellipses, respectively. See the Manual of Style


    • Outside of direct quotes and names, contradictions should be spelled out.

    Things that do not need to be fixed

    Some style guides advise against grammatical constructions such as passive voice, split infinitives, restrictive which, beginning a sentence with a conjunction, and ending clauses in a preposition. These are common in high-quality publications and should not be "fixed" without considering the consequences. Changing a passive to active may inappropriately change the topic of the paragraph, for example. Attempts to improve the language of a passage should be based on tone, clarity, and consistency, rather than blind adherence to a regional or contested rule.


    Correct spelling mistakes and typos.
    • Be careful you are using the correct variety of English (e.g. American vs. British) which affects spelling (e.g. flavour, colour, centre, or defence vs. flavor, color, center, or defense).
      • For simplicity, using one variety over another is not correct or more correct. However, the particular use of a variety should remain consistent throughout the entire article.
      • When in doubt, check the comments. There may be discussion already. If not, find which variety has the majority and change the remainder to that variety. Otherwise, just ask which variety would best suit the article in the comments or choose for yourself. Perfect example of where you should be bold.
    • Most browsers have a built-in spell-check, or you can use external web sites or software to check for possible errors.


    Remember that the Lexicon is a collaborative, consensus-based environment. Be Bold in making changes, but if you find that your work has been undone by another editor, visit the comments of the article and start a discussion before reinstating it.

    According to Butcher's Copy-editing, "The good copyeditor is a rare creature: an intelligent reader and a tactful and sensitive critic; someone who cares enough about perfection of detail to spend time checking small points of consistency in someone else's work but has good judgement not to waste time or antagonize the author by making unnecessary changes.

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