What is the difference between copyediting and proofreading?


What is the difference between copyediting and proofreading?

The difference between copyediting and proofreading: in many instances people will seek out proofreaders, while expecting copyediting skills. Often, people are not aware of the differences between the two disciplines. Some even assume they are the same thing. However, they are not the same.

What is proofreading?

A proofreader’s job is to read through the content of a document or publication to correct any spelling, punctuation, grammar and word usage errors in the final copy.

While a proofreader needs a good command of English, they do not need a special degree or certificate to work as a proofreader although some professional societies, such as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), test and certify members as an assurance of certain standards and levels of competence being observed.

When the text is nearly finished and ready for publication or circulation, after it has been edited, designed, and typeset, the proofreader searches for typographical errors. The proofreader works with a copy of a finished text when it is in digital file form – Word file or PDF format – or a printed proof of all the pages (hence the term proofreading). Proofreaders do not routinely make or recommend major wording changes to the text as this can be expensive at such a late stage; rather, they check for minor text and formatting errors to be certain it is ready for publication.

What a proofreader does

Normally a proofreader would:

  • fix grammar, spelling and punctuation (including capitalization and hyphenation inconsistencies)
  • look for incorrect word usage, such as principle for principal, or their instead of there
  • correct formatting errors, such as incorrect text font or heading styles and levels
  • check references in the text to citations in the references or notes sections
  • follow the writer’s, copyeditor’s, or publisher’s style guide
  • check for any missing elements, such as pages, illustrations or appendices that may have disappeared during typesetting.

When a book is being readied for publication it has already been read by several pairs of eyes before it reaches the proofreader, which means it is in a pretty good state. A proofreader’s job is to read the book and correct anything that was missed by the author or copyeditor, or even introduced at the editing or design stages. Much document content does not go through the same editing process that books do at a publishing house. Sometimes the proofreader is the only person to read a text in detail for publication since it was written by its author be it a blog post, brochure, flyer, or letter. So, a proofreader’s input is invaluable.

What is copyediting?

Copyediting is the process of checking for mistakes, inconsistencies, meaning, and repetition. During this process the manuscript is polished for publication.

The copyeditor is the author’s partner along with the publisher in the publication process. The copyeditor focuses on both the small details and the big picture. They must be methodical and meticulous and in some cases background knowledge of the subject matter is desirable, more so than with a proofreader.

The copyeditor’s aim is to ensure the manuscript tells the best story.

What a copyeditor does

The copyeditor would usually:

  • correct errors in grammar, spelling, word usage, and punctuation
  • check consistency in spelling, capitalization, font usage, numerals, hyphenation. For example, is it co-ordination or coordination the correct spelling style? Is it a consistent spelling style, i.e. British English or American English? Does the author use -ise or-ize spellings consistently?
  • look for continuity errors, missing pages or sections, diagrams or tables, and makes sure all is present
  • check for potential legal liability, alerting the author or publisher of any possible copyright or libel issues
  • query any inconsistencies within the story (I am talking about fiction here), including character descriptions, setting, plot details, etc.

The copyeditor’s job is not just to check grammar and spelling. They must make sure that all elements of the story are consistent, cohesive, and complete. The copyeditor is also up to date with the standard practices in book publishing, grammar, and word usage.

In summary

Copyeditors get the raw product into shape ready for publication. When they have finished, and the layout has been created by the designer and/or typesetter, the work needs to be ready to go.

Proofreaders do the final quality assurance check and tidy-up: they read proofs. They use skill, knowledge, judgement, and amassed experience to check that the work of the author, copyeditor, designer, and typesetter is correct, making necessary amendments and advising the client of problems. The proofreader is usually the last line of defence!