The Difference Between a Copy Editor and Format Editor

APA Editing

If you’re looking for an editor to polish your thesis or dissertation, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure the person you hire is proficient in APA editing style.  The acronym APA stands for American Psychological Association, which is the organization that publishes the manual to which most academic papers adhere.  Since you’re reading this blog, that probably includes yours.Many types of editors exist, however, and you’ll want to know the difference between the primary two in APA—copy editors and format editors—to make sure he or she fits your needs and/or school requirements.

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A copy editor deals with textual content of your paper.  He or she will make edits for grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, word usage, in-text citations, heading capitalization, table titles, figure captions, and will make sure those pesky and quite-involved references are written correctly according to APA style, plus much more.  The copy editor will make sure you do not needlessly use passive voice—an APA sin—and will include comments for you in places where only you can make a change—for instance, if you write an incomplete sentence the copy editor can only guess so much about what you meant to write and would therefore include a comment for you to rewrite your sentence.


A format editor deals with the layout, margins, paragraph rules (i.e., widows, orphans, and extra spaces between paragraphs of the same type), in-text citations, plus all of the issues a copy editor looks for, but with one distinct difference: a format editor does not actually make text changes.  He or she flags first-time instances of reoccurring (or stand-alone) issues, and then it is the writer’s responsibility to carefully comb through his or her paper and self-edit based on the format editor’s finds.


Now, you may be asking yourself this simple albeit important question above.  Two answers to consider are:

1.)   Some schools explicitly do not allow the use of a copy editor and insist students use a format editor.  During your writing process, you will likely have a chairperson or mentor helping you craft your paper’s content and giving you feedback, and he or she would likely notice if a copy editor worked on it after the fact, as well.  If your school won’t allow you to use a copy editor, a format editor would be the way to go.

2.)   Because format editors do not do line-by-line edits, they are generally more cost efficient for writers.  If you are confident in your own attention to detail, a format editor can quickly point out the areas you need to revise and you can spend the time a copy editor would have been billing hours to make the changes yourself.  This does require discipline and patience, but it can definitely help keep your wallet or pocketbook a bit fatter, which few have ever complained about.