Copy Editing vs Proofreading: What’s the Difference and Which Do You Need?
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Professional proofreaders are there to catch the author and copy editor’s mistakes. Some copyeditors also offer proofreading services, but it’s often best to get a fresh pair of eyes for that task. If a copyeditor misses a mistake the first time around (no editor is 100% infallible), there’s every chance they’ll miss it during the proofread. If you can, hire a separate copy editor and proofreader.
In traditional publishing, the proofreading stage comes directly before the book goes to print. After the copy has been edited, a designer or typesetter will create a file to send to the printers. Before they commit to printing 20,000 hard copies, they will create what’s called a ‘galley proof’— a test version of the book. A final digital version will also be evaluated for ebooks about to be published .
The proofreader will then meticulously comb through the proof to see if the copy editor has missed anything or if the designer has accidentally introduced a mistake into the final file. In addition to typos, these mistakes may include:
A proofreader’s list of responsibilities is often broader than what we’ve laid out above. For example, with non-fiction or journalistic writing, they might also fact-check the manuscript.
Copy editing and proofreading are two distinctly different jobs with the same goal: making a piece of writing as readable and error-free as possible. The difference between the two jobs is pretty simple: a copy editor will improve and correct what the author writes, while the proofreader makes sure the copy editor didn’t miss anything. In other words, one always comes after the other.
As a copy editor will be focusing on the individual sentences and paragraphs of your manuscript, you’ll first want to make sure you’re satisfied with your book’s structure. If there’s a chance you’ll cut out chapters, add new ones in, or tinker with certain passages — don’t get a copy editor yet! You’ll either have to get another copy edit later or pay a professional to edit something that won’t make it into the final book.
Copy editing ensures that a piece of writing is ‘correct.’ Most people will understand this to mean fixing spelling mistakes and correcting grammar issues, but this will usually go a lot further in professional publishing.
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