“Rough” copy editing explained

Copy editing is the final stage of editing prior to the graphic design stage.

Copy editing comprises:

  • the “rough” copy edit (sometimes referred to as the first pass of the copy edit, or the “line” edit) – this may require one or two passes; and/or
  • the “final” copy edit – which, if the rough copy edit has been done properly, should require just  one copy editing pass.

The copy edit can not be commenced until you are sure that the manuscript is structurally sound, its style ‘works’, and it is ready for copy editing.

If the manuscript is not structurally/stylistically sound, it will need a structural/developmental edit before commencing the copy editing stage.

What is a rough copy edit?

The goal of a rough copy edit (the first pass/es of the copy editing stage) is to correct the main errors in the manuscript in preparation for the final stage before design, which is the final copy edit.

The tasks of the rough copy edit are to:

  • correct all the major errors (for example, grammatical or sentence construction errors),
  • correct inconsistencies (for example, incorrect use of heading tiers), and
  • improve the manuscript to the stage where only minor errors, remain (for example, spelling errors, punctuation, occasional grammatical errors).

The editor undertaking the rough copy edit does not correct all the minor errors in the document, because it is impossible to correct all the minor as well as major errors during one copy editing pass. If it needs a lot of work, the manuscript may even need two rough copy editing passes (with the author working on the editor’s suggestions between each of those passes) prior to an editor conducting the final copy edit.

Once the manuscript has been through the rough copy editing stage (including the author addressing the editors’ suggestions and corrections),  it  will be ready for the “final” copy edit.

Details of what is covered by the “rough” copy edit

During the  rough copy edit, the editor:

  1. identifies any structural or major style issues which have not been addressed; if any of these are found, the manuscript may have to go through a structural or developmental editing stage, before the copy editing stage can commence;
  2. uses the chosen style manual as a guide when editing the document; for example, a standard manual used in Australia is the Australian Style Manual,;
  3. utilises and adds to, or creates, the style sheet for the manuscript (which may have already been created beforehand). The style sheet outlines all the style rules not covered in, or that contradict, the chosen style manual. The style sheet includes rules about punctuation, spelling, acronyms, capitalisation of certain words, and instructions about fonts and headings. It is a working document to which new items are added, as they arise;
  4. corrects and improves grammar, spelling and punctuation, and queries or corrects the use of incorrect or inappropriate words;
  5. non-fiction: where appropriate, the editor edits or rewrites sentences as needed, occasionally moves sentences or paragraphs to different positions, and  deletes text – always with the goal of ensuring the content is clear and easy to understand, in the context of the intended audience;
  6. fiction (e.g. novels) or poetry: the editor corrects errors including tense and  grammar, where appropriate. They may insert comments via Track Changes to suggest to the author to rewrite a paragraph, move text to another position, or delete text – always with the goal of ensuring the content is clear and easy to understand, in the context of the intended audience;
  7. corrects the spelling and punctuation errors they notice in the main text, front and end matter and captions; noting however that the main focus is on correcting and improving the content as a whole, rather than attempting to  correct every minor error (which will be the role of the editor during the final copy edit);
  8. if fact-checking is part of the rough copy editor’s brief: the editor fact-checks information (places, events, links, references) to ensure information and/or attributions are correct. If not part of the brief, fact-checking is not done;
  9. if checking photo ‘tags’ is part of the rough copy editor’s brief: the editor checks that photo tags (identification of the images to be placed throughout the manuscript) reflect the captions in those positions in the manuscript.

If the manuscript requires a very large number of major corrections, it may need more than one rough copy editing passes to get the manuscript to the stage where it is ready for the “final” copy edit.

Note: if indexing is required this will need to be done by an editor who has suitable indexing experience; this task is separate to the rough copy edit.

What about the “final” copy edit?

Most manuscripts need a structural or developmental edit and/or a rough copy edit (one or two passes) prior to the final copy edit, prior to design stage.

But some manuscripts that have been self-edited to a very high standard do not need those preliminary editing stages, and can go straight to the one-pass final copy editing stage.

Regardless of whatever other editing has occurred, a thorough one-pass final copy edit is always required before the manuscript is passed on to the graphic designer or typesetter, to complete the next stage of design.

For more about the final copy editing stage, go to: Final copy edit. 

For more information about editing, go to:

Proofread by Dee Sansom, On Time Typing

Image: Thanks to Copyright owner WOCInTechChat.


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