Copy Editing vs Proofreading

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Proofreading and copyediting are two different editing jobs with the same goal: to perfect your writing before publication. One is in charge of style consistency, while the other ensures the text is free from technical inconsistency.

This guide will help you decide which type of editing your manuscript requires. Keep reading to know the difference between a copy editor vs. proofreader. 

Copy Editing vs. Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

There is more to it, but copy editing is checking for the use of proper wordage, conciseness, and fact-checking. Proofreading can be for both fiction and non-fiction to check spelling, grammar, and flow.

What is Proofreading?

In traditional publishing, proofreading services refer to checking the document for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. It’s the final editing step before production to ensure that the piece of writing is perfect. 

But the professional proofreader does more than correct typographical errors. The “proof” or “galley proof” is the final manuscript with all the designs, covers, and formatting. It’s a test version of the book that will be published.

The process includes looking at all words and sentences to look for grammar errors and spelling mistakes.

They also check the piece of writing for incorrect numbering of pages, misaligned text, and wrong spacing. Correcting inaccurate index and paragraphing is also part of the proofreading stage.

Modern freelance proofreading may also include consulting the style guide or regional English. For instance, are the words consistently in British or American English?

What is Copy Editing?

There is a widespread belief that copy editing only edits grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and inconsistent spelling errors. But this editing service also conducts basic fact-checking for incorrect statements.

The editor has many jobs, from changing spelling errors to using the correct vocabulary. Copy editing involves making sure the reader gets a clearer idea of your text. 

Like developmental editing, it checks the style consistency in stories. For example, does the main character have an exciting development? Does the writer have more engaging characters?

If you’re writing a non-fiction book, this type of editing includes an overall quality check of style consideration. Are your ideas precise and aligned throughout the chapters? Is there a style consistency within your descriptions and arguments?

As you see, the professional copyeditor does more than mechanical editing. Their ability to perform general edits makes proofreading and the publishing process easier later.

The difference between proofreading and copy editing lies in their purpose and step in publication. Copy editing aims to make the author’s work better in grammar, style, conciseness, and spelling. Proofreading is the last stage that guarantees the copy editor and author didn’t miss any mistakes.

What is the Job of a Copy Editor?

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The copy editor or copyeditors’ primary role is to make sure the basic idea of your text is easy to understand. The editing process is like a heavier line edit because they focus on style and phrasing. 

But copy editing is also like developmental editing because it corrects inconsistencies in your plot and character description. Here are the main tasks of the copy editor:

  • Ensures consistency in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Checks capitalization and numerals.
  • Looks for inconsistencies in your fiction.
  • Conducts basic fact-checking in your manuscript.
  • In charge of any legal liability. 
  • Corrects awkward sentences with tautologies, cliches, etc.
  • Makes your writing more concise and precise.
  • Looks for inconsistencies in tone.

Copy editing is a crucial step despite not making significant structural changes to your work. Without consulting experienced copy editors, readers will notice your general mistakes.

Self-publishing authors can hire freelance editors for their work to make the necessary changes before the publishing journey. Some of these professionals also offer proofreading services as a complete package.

Examples of Copy Editing

One example of a copy editor’s job is checking the tone of your paper. If you’re writing an academic research article, the copy editor should make sure you’re using a third-person point of view to refer to yourself. 

Copy editing also includes checking if the species names, drug names, and conceptual terms are in the correct spelling. They may also see if these words are being used in the proper context.

They will check for factual errors in your literature review, ensuring each statement is true.

You might mention on one page that your work is an experimental study but say that it’s a quasi-experimental one on the next. Your copy editor will correct this inconsistency.

If you’re a fiction writer, the copy editor not only checks your grammar, but will also look for continuity errors and plot issues. For example, are the historical pieces culturally accurate? Is the setting descriptive enough to be imagined? Does the character possess dynamism?

What is the Job of a Proofreader?

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The proofreader’s job is to correct any mistake that the previous stages of editing missed. They are not regular editors who only spot typos before publication. 

Professional proofreading also considers other aspects of writing, such as grammatical rules and English spelling variations. Here are the different proofreader roles:

  • Conducts final checks for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Checks for inconsistency in fonts, layout, and formatting.
  • Corrects overall work before final reproduction of work.

The proofreader doesn’t make in-depth checks about the story, facts, and ideas. They also don’t rewrite or change individual sentences or paragraphs. Instead, they make sure the copy editor and writer didn’t miss anything.

Examples of Proofreading

Proofreaders mainly correct typographical mistakes in your manuscript for publication. For example, they make sure that all foreign words in your book are italicized. They also see that there is consistent spacing between every paragraph.

Suppose you say “colour” on one page. The proofreader checks if you don’t say “color” on the next. But they won’t check the overall accuracy of your terminology as this is the role of the copyeditor.

Should You Get a Proofreader or Copy Editor

Now that you know the difference between a copy editor and a proofreader, you should be able to decide which one you need for your work. Remember that a copy editor does in-depth editing, while a proofreader makes sure the copy editor doesn’t miss any technical errors.

You can also look for modern freelancers who offer a mix of these two services. That way, you don’t need to hire separate editors anymore.

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