Proofreading versus Copyediting: What’s the Diff?

Editor’s Corner

Copyeditors read copy before it is in final form in order to fix anything that’s wrong with its grammar, spelling, logic, structure, accuracy, consistency, or coherence. They make corrections, ask questions, and make suggestions. They might rewrite. They usually defer to a style guide (like The Chicago Manual of Style) and a specified dictionary. The copy they look at is usually typed and double-spaced for easy editing.

Proofreaders read copy after it has been finalized. Often the copy they look at is in “proof” form—that is, it has been typeset as a book or article—and it’s ready for one last look before publication. The goal is not to edit, but to check more mechanically that the typesetting perfectly matches the final version of the edited copy or that the last round of corrections was done correctly and no new errors were introduced.

Bonus definition: Copywriters (not surprisingly) write copy, often advertising or publicity copy. In a professional setting, their work will eventually be scrutinized by a copyeditor and later by a proofreader.

Editor’s Corner posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.

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Carol SallerCarol Saller, The Subversive Copy Editor, 2nd editionCarol Saller’s books include The Subversive Copy Editor and the young adult novel Eddie’s War. You can find Carol online at Twitter (@SubvCopyEd) and at Writer, Editor, Helper.

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