Hard and Soft-Copy Editing


By Grace Mlady


Before electronic documents came into being, editors mainly focused on the hard copy—the page that lay before them.  To maintain consistency in the hard copy, editors used style manuals and created style sheets for subsequent editing.  Now with electronic documents, editors find themselves looking at the initial or soft copy.  Depending on a technical editor’s job atmosphere and projects, copymarking soft copies may or may not be more efficient and effective.


When copymarking hard copies, editors will mark the documents with text, type, and design revision symbols.  These symbols tell the writer or typesetter how to revise the document (Rude, 2002).  Depending on the document and its content, editors will often refer to a style manual that emphasizes various grammatical and structural standards.  For instance, those in technical communication often use the Chicago Manual of Style.  The manuals and their standards are constantly updated.


Editors often create document style sheets or style guides while copyediting.  Style guides give editing standards for publications such as abbreviations, capitalization, grammar, punctuation, word choice, and other writing conventions. Technical editors use these standards when editing letters, memos, manuals, proposals, reports, and trade publications. Using style guides ensures technical consistency of documents for both organizations and individuals (Rude, 2002). 


With the advance of electronic documents, editors began to work with the original document copy or soft copy.  In traditional copymarking, the editor will make various marks that another writer will then use as instructions for document revision (Rude, 2002).  Now editors can directly change the soft copy or apply designs to the document thanks to computer files and templates in word-processing programs.  The ease of soft-copy editing leaves little need to mark the paper copies and eliminates a step in the editing and publishing process (Dayton, 2002).


Design and information management is also important to electronic editing.  Not only must editors continue to focus on appropriate language and grammar, but they must also focus on a writer’s design choices (Rude, 2002).  The editor must make sure the writer has chosen an appropriate design, such as a specific web or help system design.  The editor now has new questions to ask himself while looking over a document.  Are these links noticeable?  Is the interface too flashy, and can users read the font on that background?  Does the dropdown menu work properly?


Soft-copy markup has several advantages because of the advances in word-processing and design software.  Now, writers and editors can create or modify templates and styles to enhance any document (Dayton, 2002).  Instead of remembering to apply a certain font size or color to each paragraph or heading, writers can create a style instead.  A style will include several specifications such as font size, color, margins, spacing, and indention as well as other options.  These styles can later be fully or partially modified in the editing and revising process as well.


With the advances in software and thus in copy markup, editing a hard copy may be out of date and inefficient.  However many editors, depending on the document and project, may still find themselves sitting down with a cup of coffee, a style guide, and the CMS to mark up a specific document.






Dayton, D. (2002). In S. Dragga (Ed.). Technical editing (pp. 84‑105). New York:  Longman.


Rude, C. (2002). In S. Dragga (Ed.). Technical editing (pp. 51‑83). New York: Longman.