Are proofreading and copy editing the same thing?

The quick answer is: no.

If you’ve ever asked for a document to be proofread only to be told that it really needs copy editing, or vice versa, but weren’t too sure what the difference is, you’re in the right place. While people often use the two words interchangeably, proofreading and editing aren’t the same thing. When you speak to a proofreader or to a copy editor, they’ll assume that you’re referring to their own particular speciality as the two are distinct processes.

What is proofreading?

Professional proofreading is the very careful reading of a document to check for:

  • Typos
  • Grammatical mistakes
  • Inconsistencies

Proofreading is essential if you have important stakeholder content and it’s vital to be sure that it’s polished and professionally presented in every regard.

Professional proofreaders go through every single line of the content. Correcting typos, incorrect grammar and poorly constructed sentences is just part of their job. But they’re not just looking for typos and poor grammar: there’s much more to proofreading than this.

A good proofreader checks for: missing and doubled words; inconsistencies in headings and titles, terms and phrases; typos and grammatical errors; and content that doesn’t seem to make sense. Plus, they make sure that the content is accurately reflected in the table of contents, that the bullet points are presented consistently and that captions are correct.

This might sound straightforward enough, but proofreading is not a job for everyone. Spelling and grammar mistakes are easy to make and difficult to spot. A professional proofreader needs an enormous capacity for concentration and unrelenting attention to detail.

A thorough proofreader will return the content to you with countless mark-ups. Our clients are often horrified at the number of mark-ups we send back to them. Just for example, in a typical annual report of 120 pages, we’ll return between 700-1000 mark-ups.

What is copy editing?

The role of a professional copy editor is to ensure that your content reads well, that it flows, makes sense, is succinct and free of errors.

A copy editor will take your draft content and, depending on whether you want substantive or structural editing, they will go through it with a fine-tooth comb. They will review the writing to ensure that it’s consistent in tone and style throughout and that it meets your organisation’s editorial guidelines and house style. This includes checking that the text flows smoothly from one paragraph to the next.

They will also make the content more succinct by deleting words or rearranging sentences. To do this, they may restructure or rewrite sections to present you with a final document that clearly communicates your messages.

Copy editing can also include fact-checking and verifying the content does not pose any legal liability.

A good copy editor will excel at understanding the content and context of your document quickly so that their edits are consistent throughout. This means, for example, that if a copy editor makes a change to a phrase on one page, they will change it every time it pops up. Consistency is very important, especially when copy editing significant stakeholder documents such as annual reports, product disclosure statements, reconciliation action plans, sustainability reports and initial public offering documents. Excellent copy editors are alert to this.

Also importantly, a copy editor will make sure that the content is grammatically correct. They know their apostrophes from their comma splices and will put their knowledge to good work for you.

Proofreading is part of a copy editor’s role, too. However, when a document is particularly significant, it’s crucial that separate proofreading takes place after copy editing and graphic design are complete.

This is because edits can be easily overlooked by those inputting editorial changes, and graphic designers sometimes make mistakes, such as getting the heading hierarchy wrong or forgetting to add a new section to the table of contents.

Whilst a copy editor ensures the content is highly professional and accurately edited, a proofreader focuses on even the most minor elements of the content.

Where do I go for copy editing or proofreading help?

Partnering with the professional copy editors and proof readers at Proof Communications will help you to ensure your documents are spot-on and increase your opportunity for success.

For support from our professional copy editors and proofreaders in Australia, contact Proof Communications today or ring us on 02 8036 5532 or 0448 566 377.

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