The Difference Between Proofreading and Copyediting

What Is The Difference Between Proofreading and Copyediting?

I often get asked the question, what is the difference between proofreading and copyediting? For most people, there isn’t a distinction. However, it’s important you are aware of the fundamental difference between those two things; because it could cost you an awful lot of money otherwise! In this blog, I’ll run through a short explanation of both, and what they entail.

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting is an extremely in-depth revision of the material. I use the word revision because copyeditors have been given the license, by the author of the work, to revise and edit certain material if they believe that it’s best for the work. Now, of course, there is a limit to this.

If you are copyediting a piece of work, you would never delete whole chapters or just re-write your own version of the work; nor would you ever make big changes to the actual narrative/plot.

The job of a copyeditor is to read through the work sentence by sentence, and make substantial changes to areas such as grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. I would like to particularly emphasise the last part, because I believe this is fundamental to what a copyeditor offers. Sometimes, when you are writing, you aren’t aware that some of your sentences are a little off; or that you could use a comma or two extra, or sentence rejigging. This is totally normal.

In the excitement of writing our work, we don’t always pay attention to the way it’s being written. This is the job of a copyeditor. Essentially, their role is to make your sentences read beautifully. Often, copyeditors will provide you with substantial feedback and suggestions on the work; which you are then free to implement. Remember that every word counts, and this is why copyeditors are so good at what they do.

It goes without saying that copyediting is an extremely worthwhile investment, provided you find a good professional to do it. There are, of course, drawbacks to using a copyeditor. While most copyeditors will do their best to avoid infringing on your creativity, the changes that they reap can sometimes take away your voice as the author, which many people might find off-putting.

The best copyeditors will generally use track changes, allowing you to accept or reject the changes that they’ve made. This provides a great solution for both parties.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is a little different, and less extensive. Proofreaders don’t focus on the content itself, they instead focus purely on minute areas such as grammar, spelling and punctuation. Sometimes, they will make the odd change to a sentence or two; but you shouldn’t expect the widescale changes that you’ll see from a copyeditor. Proofreaders are just as important though.

It’s a big secret in the literary world, but most writers really aren’t good with grammar! This might surprise you, but often the best writers aren’t nearly as competent with grammar, spelling and punctuation as you might think; instead they are just brilliant storytellers. Many other people have usually looked at a very successful book, and worked hard to ensure that the work is grammatically sound and perfect.

It’s hard enough writing a fantastic book, let alone getting every single piece of grammar right! This is why proofreaders are great for you. They provide a more conservative option that copyediting, which won’t infringe on your creativity. Of course the downside of this is that you won’t get such an extensive review of your work; but this can easily be farmed out to friends and family.

Whichever option you choose, make sure you find someone good and professional. Always ask to see a sample of their work first; as this will give you a good idea as to whether they are the right person for you.