What's the difference between copy editing and proofreading?

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Author: Brian A. Klems
Date: May-June 2012
From: Writer's Digest(Vol. 92, Issue 4)
Publisher: Active Interest Media HoldCo, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 418 words

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Q I'm looking for paid editorial gigs and I've noticed a lot of online ads recruiting folks who can do "copy editing." I proofread others' work in my local writing group and I was wondering if copy editing is the same as proofreading, therefore qualifying me to do the work?


Copy editing and proofreading are both invaluable steps in the editing process to prepare a piece of writing for publication, but each action has a distinct role and takes place at a different point in the editing process. It's important to understand the differences so that when you apply for a particular editing gig, you know what's expected of you. To help, here's a breakdown of the copy editor and proofreader roles.

A copy editor takes a hard look at the material at hand--whether it's a manuscript, article, company newsletter or advertisement on the side of an alien spaceship--and fixes grammar mistakes, corrects continuity issues, addresses content problems, verifies facts, etc. The copy editor also makes certain the work fits the editorial style of the publisher. By the time the copy editor is finished, the writing is ready to head to the production department to be laid out and designed.

A proofreader, on the other hand, takes a look at the material after it's been typeset (basically, after the material has already been copy edited, designed and is nearly a finished product). The proofreader searches for any remaining typos and makes sure that all the copy editor's notes and edits have been implemented without error. Proofreaders also check things like page numbers, photo credits and captions, the copyright page and other copy or styling changes introduced during production. They aren't looking to move chapters, cut unnecessary paragraphs, rephrase sentences or make any other changes that could introduce new errors; they are strictly focused on making corrections.

So, when applying for these jobs, be sure to highlight your strengths and show examples of the types of editing you've performed on others' work. If your resume is light on these skills, offer to do more edits for other writers in your group so you can gain experience.

And, bear in mind, it is possible that the individual or organization posting the job has redefined the roles of copy editor and proofreader to be more specific to their own processes, so it's wise to ask for clarification of the responsibilities if they aren't already spelled out in the job description.

Brian A. Klems is the online community editor of WD.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A289722037