Proper copy editing includes examining the focus, dredging the main point up from the tenth paragraph to make it more prominent. Proper copy editing addresses the language: rooting out cliches, substituting an ordinary term for jargon when it would serve the reader better, altering infelicitous wording. Proper copy editing prunes, deleting the irrelevant, tightening the language. Proper copy editing raises serious questions, including the kind that can identify plagiarism, fabrication, and libel.
The Baltimore Sun‘s “veteran drudge” John E. McIntyre praises the hard work and, yes, artistry of copy editors, pointing out that intelligent people with compelling things to say don’t always have a great facility with words and could often use some help making a solid piece of writing more readable.
The only thing he leaves out is the particular joy of copy editing a really good writer, which allows an editor to spend less time plucking out errant semicolons and more time making great prose truly shine.