A common question asked by many writers is ‘what’s the difference between proofreading services and copyediting services?‘.
I’ll dive straight into the meat and potatoes. The skills needed for both roles overlap in many areas, which is what often creates the confusion.
The copyeditor and proofreader both check for mechanical errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Both also check for hyphens vs dashes, capitalisation, treatment of numbers, quoted information, abbreviations and acronyms, and captions and format for charts, tables and graphs.
In short, both check that every mechanical aspect of the manuscript is correct.
The distinction that sets the copyeditor apart is content editing. A copyeditor does this; a proofreader does not. The copyeditor will do a line-by-line, careful, concentrated, whole-brain reading of the work, checking every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, section and chapter and asking: does this work? Will readers understand what the author is saying? What could be done to make it clearer?
The copyeditor will usually make at least two runs through the manuscript. The first is to check for any structural and language-use problems. The second is to pick up the mechanical errors. If the manuscript is difficult or complex more than two readings may be needed.
It’s virtually impossible to properly edit and proofread at the same time. The brain works in completely different ways to accomplish both tasks, and this is where the proofreader comes in.
The proofreader, who is coming to the manuscript with fresh eyes, will check every last letter and snippet of punctuation – without the distraction of reading with an editorial eye – to ensure the manuscript is error free. (I know one proofreader who reads short texts backwards to make sure she reads the words for accuracy rather than meaning.)
And in case you’re wondering what the difference is between a copyeditor and an editor…
Broadly speaking, a copyeditor checks for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and other mechanical errors; an editor considers characterisation, consistency, plot development and overall structure.
We use the words interchangeably here because until the manuscript has been assessed we don’t know what level of editing is required. This is why a manuscript with a free editorial evaluation from a recommended editor is so important, so they can accurately provide a book editing quote and the manuscript gets the tailored attention it requires.
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