Though much work has been done on the definition of Standard English and on the standardization process, little attention has been paid to the role of copy editors in that process. Editors comprise a class of craft professionals employed to remove errors from texts and make them more consistent, but when editors speak about editors at all, they generally rely on anecdotes rather than hard data about what editors do. Since formal written English is often used as a baseline for determining what is standard, and since corpora of published writing are increasingly used to research questions of usage, it is important to understand the role of copy editors in shaping the text that we see on the printed page. This study examines the usage and grammar changes made by student editorial interns in twenty-three academic journal articles. Volunteer professional editors were then solicited to edit the same articles, and their changes were compared against the interns' changes. The changes were counted and categorized to determine which usage rules can be considered most important to copy editors and thus most essential to distinguishing Standard Edited English from standard unedited writing. It was found that the most frequent changes were several grammatical items and a few lexical items, including the that/which rule, avoidance of towards, increased parallelism, and standardization of s-genitive forms. These changes confirm the idea that editors play a role in standardization, particularly codifying certain forms by reducing optional variation. From this data we can conclude that educated written usage and edited usage are not necessarily the same and should not be conflated. These findings also have implications for the use of corpus data in usage studies by showing that the final version of a printed work does not necessarily show the usage of edited writers but likely has a substantial contribution from copy editors.



College and Department

Humanities; Linguistics and English Language



Date Submitted


Document Type





copy editing, usage, grammar, English language, standardization, Standard English

Included in

Linguistics Commons