Copyediting vs proofreading

What’s the difference between copyediting and proofreading?

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Are you ready to have your document edited, but you’re confused as to what level of editing you need? Does it really matter? Aren’t copyediting and proofreading the same thing anyway? Nope! People often get them confused. Let me explain the difference between copyediting and proofreading and help you make the right choice.

WHAT DOES A COPYEDITOR DO?

A copyeditor edits for correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness.

Copyeditors check for the following:
• Correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation
• Correct word usage (e.g., that you didn’t write affect when you meant effect)
• Provide basic fact-checking for historical details, quotations, URLs, etc.
• Consistent application of abbreviations, capitalization, and treatment of numbers
• Consistency of timeline and character details
• Fix or flag confusing phrases
• Develop a style sheet to track editorial style like whether you used the serial comma or if you spelled out numbers

A copyeditor will not make large structural changes to your document, check for age appropriateness, or rewrite large passages. They’re concerned with checking the details at a sentence level.

copyediting vs. proofreading

WHAT DOES A PROOFREADER DO?

Traditionally, a proofreader works on a document that has been typeset and formatted. However, more and more proofreaders are working in Microsoft Word on documents that haven’t yet been typeset, particularly when working with self-publishing authors.

Typically, the manuscript should have already been edited. Proofreading is the last step in the editorial process – the final quality check.

A proofreader checks for the following:
• Any errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation missed by the copyeditor
• Correct word usage (e.g., homophones and homonyms)
• Flag formatting issues with font size, style, and layout
• Cross-reference errors and broken links




If working on typeset documents, proofreaders check for the following:

• Compare the proof against the copyeditor’s copy to ensure all the copyeditor’s changes were made
• Appropriate word breaks are appropriate
• Ensure that the design specifications have been carried out
• Will not make unnecessary changes. At this stage in the process, changes cost money!

So, as you can see, there is some overlap. Copyediting involves a more detailed look at the structure and clarity of sentences, whereas proofreading focuses on catching those last remaining typos before publication.

It’s possible that you’ll need both services, but it depends on what stage of the process you’re at. Basically, if your document hasn’t yet been edited by someone other than you, or if you expect a significant number of errors, you need a copyedit rather than a proofread.

What about developmental editing or line editing? I cover other types of editing in this post. 

I hope you now have a clearer idea of which level of editing you need. If you have any questions or would like to hire me to proofread or copyedit your document, click here to contact me.