Copy Editing vs Proofreading

Copy Editing vs Proofreading

There are two halves to every whole.

Copy editing and proofreading are both integral stages of the editing process. But they serve different purposes to complete a well-rounded piece of content.

There is also the dilemma of creative opinion versus what is grammatically correct. This is demonstrated by poet and playwright Oscar Wilde who wrote:

I was working on the proof of one of my poems in the morning, and tool out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back again.

In this blog, we explore what copy editing and proofreading are, and why they are important.

What is copy editing?

Copy editing refers to the initial stage of reviewing a piece of written material.

A professional copy editor would correct both continuity errors and factual errors, improve clarity, and maintain style consistency which could potentially alter the overall structure of the content.

The objective is to enhance the quality and readability of the text before it's published or shared.

However, copyediting is not the same as copywriting, though both are part of the same overall copywriting process.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is a crucial step of the editing process as surface-level flaws are reviewed in written work to identify and amend minor grammatical errors.

It is the final step before publishing or sharing a piece of writing to ensure that it is free from mistakes and maintains a polished and professional appearance.

A proofreader focuses on checking the final copy of the content. Catching typographical mistakes, inconsistencies, and mistakes that might have been missed during earlier stages of editing.

Differences between copy editing and proofreading

The two editing methods of copywriting and proofreading ultimately work together to form the final draft of a written project.

Despite the notable overlap between the processes, and subsequently often confusion, there are key differences between them.

One: Scope

Copy editing has a heavier line edit. It is a more comprehensive process as it involves reviewing and correcting various aspects of a written piece.

This may include adjustments to the style and overall structure.

By contrast, the proofreading stage is the final check which primarily focuses on identifying and correcting easily altered errors.

Proofreaders would address typos, spelling errors, punctuation errors, and formatting inconsistencies.

Two: Focus

Copyeditors not only correct errors but also work on improving the flow, coherence, and readability of the text, using word choice critically to ensure conciseness.

They may suggest rewording sentences, reorganising paragraphs, and making overall improvements to enhance the content quality.

However, proofreaders do not typically make major changes to the content's structure or wording.

Their goal is to catch any remaining mistakes that might have been missed during previous stages of editing. Ultimately, producing and ensuring an error free piece of writing.

Three: Involvement

Copyediting usually occurs before the proofreading process and is often done by experienced copy editors.

A copy editor's job requires a deeply developed understanding of language, style guides and the content's subject matter in order to adhere to the appropriate tone.

In traditional publishing processes, a professional proofreader would examine the content after having undergone substantive editing in both copyediting and layout design.

They must understand and consider spelling and grammatical rules. As proofreading is the last step before the content is finalised for publication.

Similarities between copy editing and proofreading

Copy editing and proofreading are essential steps in the editing and publishing process that contribute to producing high-quality written materials.

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One: Error correction

Both copy editing and proofreading involve the use of writing skills to identify and correct errors in the content.

These errors can include spelling mistakes, punctuation, grammar errors and inconsistencies.

Two: Language skills

Both roles require a strong command of the language being edited, including correct vocabulary and its proper usage.

Effective copy editors and proofreaders need to have a keen eye for detail and a thorough understanding of language mechanics.

Three: Attention to detail

Both copy editors and proofreaders need to pay close attention to detail.

They must carefully review the text to catch errors that might be overlooked by the author or others involved in the writing process.

Four: Quality improvement

Both processes aim to improve the overall quality of the written content.

Copy editors enhance the readability, coherence and structure of the content, while proofreaders ensure that the final version is polished and error free.

Notable copy editors and proofreaders

Benjamin Dreyer

This renown copyeditor is recognised for his work as the vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief at Random House.

Dreyer is also known for his book Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, which has gained popularity for its insights into language usage, grammar, and writing style.

He's primarily known for his role in the publishing industry. But his contributions and expertise have made him a respected figure in both copy editing and proofreading.

Carol Fisher Saller

Saller served as the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and authored the book The Subversive Copy Editor.

Her work has been influential in guiding copyeditors and proofreaders through the intricacies of language usage, style, and the editorial process.

Saller's practical advice and engaging writing style have made her a respected authority in the editing community, both online and through her published works.

Copy editing and proofreading examples

Here's an example of copy editing and proofreading based on copy edits:

Original sentence:

'The company's objective encompasses the augmentation of its prevailing market share through the implementation of devised marketing strategies.'

The original sentence can appear long-winded. Awkward sentences can make it hard to read.

Copy edited version:

The companys objective is to augment it's market share through the implementation of effective marketing strategies.

Following the copy editing process, the sentence reads more succinctly, having kept the meaning of the original whilst eliminating unnecessary syntax.

Final copy edited and proofread version

The company's objective is to augment its market share through the implementation of effective marketing strategies.

The proofread version has closely analysed the copy edited one and identifies punctuation mistakes and typos, making it ready for publication.


In conclusion, while copy editing and proofreading are distinct stages of the editing process, they are both crucial for polished written content.

Copy editing involves enhancing quality, flow, and readability, addressing errors, and sometimes restructuring the content.

Proofreading is the final check for surface-level errors like typos, ensuring a polished appearance without major structural changes.

Both processes require language skills, attention to detail, and aim to improve overall quality. Figures like Benjamin Dreyer and Carol Fisher Saller have made significant contributions to these fields.

Whether you are refining a complex manuscript or giving a final check to an important blog, understanding the nuances of copy editing vs proofreading can make the difference in presenting a a professional and impactful piece of writing to the world.