copyediting and proofreading what s the difference

Copyediting and Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

Copyediting and proofreading are often confused as being synonymous terms, but they are actually 2 different types of editing that encompass the last steps of the content editing process. The service that you may need depends on how refined your content is and what level of review you are looking for, though both are equally important. Let’s dive into the differences.

A Brief Overview of the Content Editing Process

There are 4 main stages in the content editing process. The first is called developmental editing, which is more for books or larger written works. At this stage, the editor would be looking for overarching issues centering around things like character and plot development or the overarching content structure. The second is called line editing, which involves refining writing style, word choices, sentence structure, and overall comprehensiveness.

The next 2 stages get more into the nitty gritty, and while they can overlap in some areas, they involve different scopes of work. These are the copyediting and proofreading stages, where we polish up the content and make sure the grammar and other details are mistake-free.

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting is a crucial step that improves readability and conciseness, checks for consistency in thoughts and tone of voice, and starts combing through any grammatical mistakes. The copyeditor works to make sure your content flows and makes sense. This is the stage where we make sure that your writing follows any existing style guides or is at least consistent in stylistic choices. In general, copyediting involves:

  • Checking for correct grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling
  • Ensuring correct formatting
  • Fact checking
  • Improving sentence structure
  • Maintaining consistency (e.g. numbers and stylistic writing choices)
  • Improving readability
  • Checking for broken links and cross-reference errors

Copyediting does not include content editing or restructuring, content creation, or fixing a rough draft. At this point, the content should already be in a finalized state – now’s the time to clean it up!

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading encompasses a much narrower scope of work than copyediting – it is the last refinement stage before sending your content off into the world. At this point, your content should be clearly written and understandable to your audience with minimal mistakes. The proofreader’s job is to focus solely on combing through content on the surface level to catch any grammar mistakes or misspelled words or anything glaring that the copyeditor may have missed. Proofreading is the safety net to catch those last left-behind errors and make sure formatting is correct. It does not include any sort of content editing, restructuring, or fact checking. What it does include is checking for:

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Spelling
  • Correct formatting
  • Broken links and cross-reference errors

Why Bother with Proofreading?

All the things that proofreaders are looking for are already encompassed in the copyeditors’ tasks, so why bother with proofreading as well? There are good reasons that these last tasks are revisited in the proofreading stage.

Copyeditors have a lot to focus on when making sure the content makes sense and flows in a way that is logical and understandable. Focusing on sentence structure, word choices, syntax, and style is already a lot; there are bound to be small details missed while maintaining the bigger picture.

That’s where the proofreader comes in. They focus solely on the small, technical details – not distracted by things like sentence structure and word choice. If there are still a lot of noticeable mistakes, the proofreader may choose not to proof your work and direct you to a copyeditor instead.

Which Service Should You Choose?

If your content is finalized but the copy hasn’t been reviewed or edited extensively, it needs a more in-depth review. That’s when you need copyediting services. If your content seems to be ready to publish and you just want someone to look it over to correct any existing grammatical and spelling errors, your content is the perfect candidate for proofreading!

Still not quite sure what services you need? We’re happy to help out. In the meantime, you can also read the first article in this series to learn more about why copyediting and proofreading are so important. 

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Rachael Smith
Rachael SmithCore Contributor

Rachael is a certified UX/UI Designer and pro copyeditor and proofreader on the digital marketing team. Before coming to Marathon Consulting, she lived in France as an au pair, traveling, drinking wine, and eating too much bread and cheese. Before her year of travels, she studied graphic design, web design, and web development at Ithaca College. Nowadays, when she's not busy creating exceptional user experiences or geeking out over copyediting, you can find her making fun vegetarian recipes, riding her motorcycle, spending time with her 2 dogs, or enjoying the hot summer sun.

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