Do I need a copy editor or a proofreader?

And what’s the difference?

Much confusion exists about the jobs performed by proofreaders and copy editors. It seems like they do the same thing doesn’t it?

Ahhh, but they don’t do the same thing.

The terms are often used interchangeably. Proofreading and copyediting use similar skills and do overlap a bit, but they are two distinct jobs.

Think of them this way: the copy editor is the person picking up the chunks of glass on the floor from a broken window. When the copy editor is finished, the proofreader comes by with a broom to clean up the fine pieces of glass that you wouldn’t notice until they’re stuck in the bottom of your feet.

Copy editors and proofreaders work in concert with each other. Sometimes the same person may even do both jobs. Don’t let that fool you. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between these two confusing positions so you can hire the right person at the right time.

What does a copy editor do?

Copy editors deal with the meat of the copy, what it says and how it says it. They ensure your sentences say what you want them to say. They check for dangling modifiers, incorrect word usage, subject/verb agreement, and proper use of pronouns. And don’t worry, they also check your spelling and punctuation as well as anything else that can throw a reader off.

In addition to these duties, a copy editor will check and flag any facts that seem incorrect and flag anything that could expose the author or business to lawsuits. They look for instances of bias or stereotyping which are vital areas that can help you avoid conflict or embarrassment in today’s connected environment.

Most copy editors offer either a light level copy edit or a heavy level copy edit. By reading through a sample of the copy to be edited, the copy editor can determine which level is appropriate for the job.

So how about a proofreader? How is their job different?

What does a proofreader do?

The proofreader is like the guard at the gate of the palace, making sure no riffraff gets in. I have no idea whose palace this is, but you get the idea.

The proofreader polishes the document or manuscript. Typos annoy readers and can ruin a business’s reputation.¬†They make you look like a professional and give your credibility a huge boost.

In general, a proofreader checks for proper grammar, punctuation, word usage and spelling errors the copy editor may have missed. As good as most copy editors are, they can’t be expected to be perfect. That extra set of eyes offers further insurance that your copy is as error free as possible.

A proofreader also watches for problems in these areas:

  • Consistency
  • Alignment
  • Alphabetized lists and sequences
  • Captions
  • Columns
  • Dates
  • Headlines
  • Numbers
  • Spelling of names

A proofreader also points out writing that may need a bit of attention, but the actual changes are made by the author.

Two distinct but equally important jobs

This is not an exhaustive list of everything a copy editor or proofreader does, but it gives you a good picture of their duties and the differences between the two. Used together, they strive to create as perfect a finished product as possible.

Need to hire a copy editor or proofreader?

Now that you know the difference, you can confidently search for a copy editor or proofreader when you need one. If you’d like to explore your needs with me, click here, and we’ll get started.




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