Difference between Copyediting and Proofreading

By Aparna Sharma, MPharm, Clinical Research, Uttarakhand Technical University

Both proofreading and copyediting services involve close and cautious reading of a document. Proofreading and copyediting are often assumed to be the same; but, they are not. Contrary to popular belief, a copyeditor is not a glorified spell checker. The copyeditor is your partner in publication. To “copyedit” a document is to proofread it with the added expectation of ensuring style consistency with other content from the company or publication. Copyediting is also known as “sub-editing” in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere.

Let’s take a closer look at what a copyediting service involves.

A copyeditor:

  • Checks for and corrects errors in grammar, spelling, syntax, and punctuation.
  • Checks for technical consistency in spelling, capitalization, font usage, numerals, hyphenation. For example, is it ‘post-operative’ on page 2 and ‘postoperative’ on page 4? Or do you use both British and American English spelling variations interchangeably, such as favourable vs. favorable?
  • Checks for continuity errors and makes sure that all loose ends are tied.
  • Checks for factually incorrect statements. The copyeditor must check if the facts in your manuscript, such as drug names, species names, etc., are accurate.
  • Checks for a potential legal liability. The copyeditor verifies that your manuscript does not libel others.
  • Checks for inconsistency within the story. This includes character description, plot points, and setting. Does each character stay true to its own description throughout the story? Are there conflicting descriptions of the study? For example, have you described the study as ‘retrospective’ on one page but ‘prospective’ on another page?

As you see, the copyeditor’s job is not just to check grammar and spelling. He/she must ensure that every element of your story is consistent, cohesive, and complete.

Hiring a proofreader is particularly helpful if English is not your first language. Your proofreader will be looking for language errors and formatting errors, missing words, typos, punctuation errors, spelling and formatting inconsistencies, and all the smaller things that have slipped through previous stages of editing.

However, proofreading is the process of examining the final draft of a document or text, after it has been edited, to ensure there are absolutely no errors. A proofreader will review for spelling errors, punctuation errors, typos or incorrect use of regional English (i.e. ensuring that you’re using American English or British English when necessary).

Thus, proofreading and copyediting services focus on different aspects of writing. The following points will clearly explain the differences between the two:

  • Proofreading is the process that involves examination of the document to check for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, incorrect punctuation marks, and lack of consistency in the text style like fonts, highlights like bold and italics, spacing, underscore, etc. On the contrary, copyediting is a more in-depth process. This involves not just all the proofreading checks as well as a revision of the text to improve its flow and structure.
  • A proofreader mainly reads the copy of the document for checking consistency and layout of the information. Proofreading, therefore, mainly focuses on ensuring that nothing has been missed by the copyeditor or typesetter. Proofreaders not at all responsible for overall consistency and accuracy of the content. The process of proofreading does not comprise re-writing or changing the form in which the document has been written. Therefore, this activity mostly is carried out after the copyediting has been done.

    However, the copyediting service ensures that the raw text or document is correct in relation to the spelling and grammatical rules. In addition, it checks the readability of the document to ensure that readers can grasp the writer’s ideas. A copyeditor also attempts to prevent disconcerting errors relating to facts, alarms the author in the context of any possible legal implications, and makes sure that the typesetter can do a better job.

  • The copyeditor’s work is to ensure that the document meets all the conventions of a good writing. In addition to this, a copyeditor sees to it that the writing complies with the conventions of grammar, proper and correct vocabulary is used, and the text contains correctly placed appropriate punctuation marks.

    On the contrary, a proofreader is assigned with the task of checking reproduction as to what the final documented text will look like. The task is not about making revision but making a correction. Thus, it can be said that it is making sure of the total absence of any typographical mistakes from the manuscript and to proceed to the production stage. An element of correction may range from a letter to a paragraph or any accidentally omitted or repeated information or misplaced database.

In Summary:

  • Goes beyond “spellcheck” to catch errors a computer might miss
  • Ensures zero grammatical errors, usually after a document has already been edited
  • In-depth process
  • Proofreading with an added expertise in ensuring style consistency appropriate to a publication or organization


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