This is one of those questions that we get asked a lot. Many people think these two are one and the same, but they’re not! However, you will use skills from both of these disciplines on your own work and, if you learn how to do it properly, on other people’s work too! They are both part of the process of revising your writing with copy editing coming before proofreading.
The clue really is in the name. Copy editors edit copy. They read through what’s been written and make changes as needed. This usually includes corrections to spelling and grammar, as most copy editors will do this too. However, they also delve much deeper into the text to check the logical flow of ideas, length of the work and any other writing issues that might crop up. They’ll make changes to the original work – checking facts and figures, correcting grammar, ensuring that the work is readable and preventing glaring errors.
The Society of Proofreaders and Copy Editors explains it as:
'A copy-editor makes sure that an author's raw text, or copy, is correct in terms of spelling and grammar and is easy to read so that readers can grasp his or her ideas. A copy-editor also tries to prevent embarrassing errors of fact, alert the publisher to any possible legal problems and ensure that the typesetter can do a good job.'
Proofreading is usually the last part of the writing process. After all the other changes have been done, the final proofread checks spelling, grammar, layout and consistency with bold, italics and the like. There is no re-writing done at this stage – it’s just simply checking that the content is correct. The Society of Proofreaders and Copy Editors says:
'The proofreader reads the copy for consistency in usage and layout, for accuracy in the text and references and for typesetting errors. The proofreader, however, is only acting as a quality check, making sure that the copy-editor or typesetter has not missed something. He or she is not responsible for overall consistency and accuracy.'
If you’d like more information about these two disciplines our Proofreading and Copy Editing course is a great place to start.
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"The Proofreading course has helped me enormously in my career as an author and journalist. I can now proof my own work, confident in the knowledge that I can spot typos or spelling mistakes.
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