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Copy-editing and Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

It’s quite common to confuse the roles of copy-editing and proofreading and to assume they are the same thing. In fact, they are separate skills used at different stages of the production process.

To help you decide whether you need my skills as a copy-editor or proofreader, here’s a description of each role.

Copy-editing

Copy-editing is the art of making the words flow; to iron out ambiguities, inconsistencies and grammatical errors. We are the cleaning staff of the editorial world. Everything looks much fresher and more ordered after we’ve done our job.

Below are some of the items on my copy-editing checklist.

  • Grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling.
  • Consistency in body text, header fonts and indentations.
  • Correct names for places and famous people.
  • Using synonyms to eliminate repetition of words in a sentence.
  • Continuity in character traits and appearance.
  • Checking numbers and titles are sequential and correct.
  • Ensuring all the elements are there: tables, drawings, images, and references.
  • Flagging up any legal concerns, such as plagiarism, copyright issues, libel, and obscenities.

This list is not exhaustive.  For a more comprehensive round-up, read the guidelines set out by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders: What is copy-editing?

Proofreading

After the copy-edit, the material is sent to the designer or typesetter to be reviewed on screen or printed off as a paper proof. Now it’s time for the proofreader to do their job. This is the quality control stage; the final checks before a document is handed back for publication.

It is not the proofreader’s job to rewrite sections of text, but it’s fair enough to highlight a clumsily written sentence that the copy-editor has missed and suggest a way to improve it.

My proofreading checklist includes:

  • Grammar, spelling, and typography.
  • Consistency in style, text, layout, images, and captions.
  • Ambiguity or lack of clarity in meaning.
  • Running heads and feet.
  • Numbers, indexes, and graphs.
  • Alphabetised lists and sequences.

Depending on the client’s request, I can mark-up proofs in a variety of ways: on paper or screen using British Standards Institution’s (BSI) proof-correction marks; on a Word document using Track Changes, or on a PDF using commenting tools and BSI proofreading stamps.

This is by no means the full checklist. To find out more about proofreading services, take a look here: What is proofreading?

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