It is always satisfying to dispel misconceptions about things that a vast majority of the population believes. Especially if knowing the truth helps to improve peoples’ circumstances in some way. There are so many things that appear to be exactly the same, when in actuality, they are quite different. In the realm of writing and editing, the difference between copyediting and proofreading proves to be one such misconception. Most instinctively put them into the same category. But it is important to know the difference when you are self-publishing. You want to know who to hire in order to make sure your writing is at its best.
Now then, let us compare and contrast the two for those of you that may be a bit confused…
Copyediting typically comes after the content editing stage and has nothing to do with actual story structure. Once you get to the copyedit stage, you should already be satisfied with the story that you have written. Also, people often mistake copy editors for spell checkers. But alas, CE’s cover a much larger scope than just spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, hyphenation, line spacing etc. They fact check and look for consistency errors within the story (if writing nonfiction), and they make sure that there is logic within the timeline, environment, and character traits. In other words, they make it all make sense. Copy editors possess a very unique skillset and will often times rely on the use a style guide in order to get the job done.
Proofreading, on other hand, is dead last in the editing process. Now, just as copyeditors are seen as glorified proofreaders, proofreaders are perceived as watered-down copyeditors. Funny how that goes, right? Proofreading happens after the book or manuscript is already finalized. It’s not the proofreader’s job to fix all of your colons/semi-colons, hyphens, spelling, usage, etc. Proofreaders act as “quality assurance.” In other words, they check to see if the margins are off, if line spacing is consistent, and if you’ve indented your scene breaks. They make sure that all page numbers, headers, and content are on the appropriate pages. This is why formatting is so important before submitting to the proofreader. They are the last set of eyes to look over your proof copy so that the finished product is what you want your readers to see. You could call them the last line of defense for formatting errors.
To sum it all up, copyeditors look for redundancy errors and inconsistencies within your story and fact check. They make sure your story is logical and that it makes sense to the reader. They check to see if the writer stays consistent with his or her facts throughout the entire story. Proofreaders, however, are not going to re-write your piece or give you feedback on the actual story itself. They won’t point out items like redundancy or repeated words. They are simply dealing with typographical errors and any errors that slip through the copyediting phase. A proofreader may make up for a few minor slip ups by the copy editor, but ordinarily, each approaches the task from entirely difference points of view.
So now that you have a better understanding of the editing process, and the difference between proofreading and copyediting, you should have better idea of what you might need for your writing project. Remember, the world is your oyster! Go out there and be great! And whatever you choose to do, give it 110 percent.