Proofreader or copyeditor

Do you need a proofreader or copyeditor?

Proofreader or copyeditor: what is the difference between the two roles? 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 and 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, test and certify members as an assurance of certain standards and levels of competence being observed.

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

What a proofreaders does

These are the principal duties of a proofreader. He or she

• fixes grammar, spelling and punctuation (including capitalization and hyphenation inconsistencies)
• looks for incorrect word usage, such as ‘principle’ for principal, or ‘their’ instead of ‘there’
• corrects formatting errors, such as incorrect text font or heading styles and levels
• checks references in the text to citations in the references or notes sections
• follows the writer’s, copyeditor’s, or publisher’s style guide.

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 of the content out there does not go through the same editing process as 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. It could be it a blog post, brochure, flyer, or letter. So a proofreader’s input is invaluable.

Proofreading or copyediting, two different roles but both are mostly on screen now
Proofreading or copyediting, two different roles but both are mostly on screen now

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 your manuscript tells the best story.

What a copyeditor does

The following checks are usually carried out. The copyeditor

• corrects errors in grammar, spelling, word usage, and punctuation
• checks consistency in spelling, capitalization, font usage, numerals, hyphenation. For example, is it co-ordination or coordination the correct spelling style? Does it use a consistent spelling style throughout, i.e. British English or American English? Does the author use -ise or-ize spellings consistently?
• looks for continuity errors, missing pages or sections, diagrams or tables, and makes sure all is present
• checks for potential legal liability, alerting the author or publisher of any possible copyright or libel issues
• queries 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 should also up to date with the standard practices in book publishing, grammar, and word usage.

In summary

Proofreader or copyeditor? Now you should know there is a difference. To recap:

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, and will necessary amendments and advising the client of problems.

Proofreading is the final chance to get things right before publication or circulation.

If you are still unsure, CIEP has produced its own publication: