The beginner’s guide to queries

January 1, 2019 By Erin Brenner

In “Queries: Skilled Negotiation Required,” I talked about the art of negotiating to get your queries answered. I offered several tips, including:

But how do you know when to query and the best medium for presenting that query?


We copyeditors query when we have a question. But do we take the time to try to answer that question first?

It’s a common mistake, particularly among students and new copyeditors, to just ask the question without doing any research first. Spend just five minutes trying to answer the question yourself. Check your resources. Do a quick Internet search. You may find an answer more easily than you realize. Or you may be able to refine your question in a way that makes answering it faster and easier for the author.

Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash


You’ve done your homework, but you still have this question for the author. Do you send it now or at the end the project? Typically, copyeditors ask all of their questions when they’re done editing. It’s more efficient for the editor to edit an entire manuscript (which may reveal the answer) than to start and stop the editing to ask questions and then insert the answers. It’s also more efficient for the author to handle questions all at once. However, if you have a question that pertains to the entire manuscript or to a large portion of it, query immediately. This will allow you to do the editing right the first time, rather than going back to redo your work later.

What Medium to Query In

When should you include the queries in the manuscript versus putting them in the cover letter? Is it ever OK to call or have an in-person meeting?

Most queries are best put in the manuscript, where the context will be immediately apparent. Even if you will make a global change, as long as the query is short, put it in the manuscript.

Once you have to write a paragraph to explain your question, it’s time for a bigger forum. Put that query in the cover letter. If you need to ask your question before the end of the project, email may still be a good way to communicate.

However, once the query becomes complex, it’s time for a call or an in-person meeting. People often skim long emails or read only the first few lines. If that’s going to result in getting an answer you can’t use, try a more direct approach.

It also may be a quicker route to an answer. A five-minute call could replace an hour spent typing an email and an untold amount of time waiting for a response.


To learn more about querying, check out Art of the Query by Copyediting co-owner and director of training Laura Poole. Among other things, you will learn how to:

Learn to query well, and you’ll get better answers to your questions, as well as a smoother relationship with your author.

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website, June 4, 2013.

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