Copyediting Vs. Proofreading: A Comparative Analysis

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Once a writer completes a book, magazine or story, the copy goes through additional processes before it is ready for mass publishing. Copyediting and proofreading are two necessary steps that help structure content, improve readability and correct grammatical mistakes. Knowing about these tasks can benefit you if you are a writer or want to work in the publishing industry. In this article, we compare copyediting with proofreading by examining similarities and differences.

Copyediting vs. proofreading

While comparing copyediting vs. proofreading, one noticeable commonality is that both jobs require cautious and attentive reading and comprehension skills. Copy refers to a book, novel, short story, journal, magazine or material an author submits for publishing. Copyediting and proofreading are very distinct tasks. Using the terms interchangeably can lead to miscommunication, disrupt the work at hand and adversely affect the quality of the copy. Copyediting and proofreading have distinct goals and professionals responsible for these tasks focus on two different aspects of writing. Here are some of the important distinctions between copyediting and proofreading:

Definitions

Below are the definitions of copyediting and proofreading:

Copyediting

Copyediting refers to the act of ‌checking a copy for its substance, structure and readability. It is the second stage of the editing process and the work of a copyeditor begins when the chief editor and the author make major structural and subject matter changes to the copy. A copy editor usually focuses both on minute details and the larger picture of the author's words and makes changes without any distortion to the original content.

The copy editor may review the writing for smaller edits, focusing on clarity, readability and grammar. They ensure that these lower-level elements of the writing align and support the structure, message and voice of the copy. Once copyediting is complete, the copy goes for typesetting and a printed copy goes to a proofreader to check for errors.

Proofreading

Proofreading begins when a copy editor completes their task and when they submit a printed or digitised copy. The final stage of the editing process examines a copy for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors and inconsistencies in fonts, spacing or hyphenation. If proofreaders notice too many errors, they can send the copy back to a copyeditor for further editing.

If proofreading is complete with zero errors, the copy goes to the author, who checks the document once again and approves it for mass printing. Proofreading is a quality assurance measure as a document goes into printing only if it has zero errors.

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Goals

Copyediting improves an author's writing style and makes a copy readable and clear. Proofreading is to ensure a document or manuscript is error-free. Despite very clear goals, there may be occasions when a copyeditor makes corrections or a proofreader may suggest some improvements that a copy editor may have missed. Copyediting is the stage before typesetting and proofreading is the stage before mass printing.

Role of professionals

Copyeditors ensure that they organise and structure the content of the copy they receive from a structural editor. They make changes to keep a reader engaged with the book without losing interest. They rewrite poorly structured sentences or remove irrelevant or repetitive portions of the copy. They also fact check for facts, figures, situations and sources an author quotes in a book.

The role of a proofreader is less complex and they check for errors, missing pages or missing words. Authors who self publish their books may do the copyediting and proofreading on their own or hire freelance professionals capable of performing both tasks. A proofreader is an intrinsic part of the editing team and their work is crucial for maintaining the success and quality of a book.

Responsibilities

A copy editor improves a copy in more than one way. Choosing or substituting the author's words, changing sentences to improve continuity, maintaining consistency in the language and an author's or character's voice and removing repetition are important responsibilities of a copy editor. They verify facts and ensure possible legal issues due to the nature of the content or unverified information.

A proofreader is responsible for correcting errors in grammar, spelling and capitalisation. They maintain consistency in style while using fonts and spacing. They also correct errors in indexing, age numbers and removing awkward page breaks. One of their major responsibilities is working within deadlines and ensuring that book launches happen on time.

Skills required

Some fundamental copyediting skills include knowledge of current affairs and trends, research skills, a deep understanding of a reader's expectation and the ability to keep readers engaged to what they are reading. Since a copy editor has the scope to improve an author's' work, language skills relating to grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary are crucial. On the other hand, proofreading requires an eye for detail, patience, organisational skills, the ability to work accurately and sound knowledge of proofreading techniques.

Related: 10 Tips To Improve Your Writing Skills

Duration

On average, a copy editor may edit about one to five standard pages with 250 words in an hour. The number of pages depends on the writer's style, attention to grammar, continuity, punctuation and consistency. Copyeditors may work independently or with a team.

A professional proofreader can edit about nine to 13 standard pages per hour. The volume of work they can take up depends on the size of the copy, the number of errors and their experience. As a thumb rule, each document goes through three proofreading cycles. Most authors insist on reading their work after the final proofreading to assure themselves of the overall quality of editing.

Number of passes

Going through a copy from end to end is a 'pass' in publishing terms. An author may or may not edit their manuscript before sending it to the publisher. Once a publisher receives a manuscript, a structural editor changes the structure and substance of the document. A document then goes for copyediting. While one pass may be adequate for simple documents, some editors may insist on two passes for copyediting before approving a copy for typesetting or graphic design. During proofreading, editors may prefer two to three passes to ensure that the team identifies every error or mistake.

Complexity of improvements

Copyediting generally focuses on large-scale and complex changes that might provide clarity and readability, while proofreading focuses on typos and small grammatical errors. Copyeditors may rewrite a few sentences, add or remove paragraphs or change a portion of the manuscript to fix transition, wordiness, jargon and continuity issues.

Unlike copyediting, there is no scope for rewriting in proofreading as it is limited to correcting typographical, text or formatting errors. If a proofreader feels the need for revision or rewriting, they can revert to the copyeditor and may not do it on their own. Proofreading is a meticulous job where the proofreaders take time to go through each word, sentence and paragraph patiently to ensure that the book is ready for publication with zero errors.

Guidelines

Following organisation-specific formatting style guides or other style guides like Chicago style, AP style, MLA style or Turabian style helps maintain uniformity throughout a document. Referring to a dictionary while in doubt can improve consistency in spelling. Mandatory fact-checking is a crucial guideline for copyediting, as unverified information could lead to legal issues both for the author and publisher.

For proofreading, use a checklist to identify mistakes like noun and verb agreements, passive voice usage, pronouns or number styles. Reading aloud improves the possibility of identifying simple mistakes. Working in quiet surroundings and a comfortable environment helps improve the effectiveness of a proofreading workflow.

Similarities between copyediting and proofreading

Though copyediting and proofreading are not the same, they share several similarities. These may be useful to improve your understanding of the two types of editing. Here are a few general similarities between copyediting and proofreading:

  • Both may involve fixing grammatical errors and improving readability.

  • Both come near the end of the editing process, close to publication.

  • Both involve making smaller changes to the text rather than major structural ones.

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Software tools for copyediting and proofreading

Many software tools are common for both proofreading and copy-editing jobs. Despite the use of AI and machine learning, there is a possibility that tools may miss out on some types of mistakes. Automation can help improve and correct a copy, but verifying it manually can identify mistakes the tool cannot find. Some popular copyediting and proofreading tools include Grammarly and ProWritingAid.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

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