How do copy editing and professional proofreading services differ?

The difference between expert proofreading and professional copy editing

If you’re wondering what copy editing is and how it differs from proofreading, look no further. While the terms proofreading and copy editing are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a clear difference. The distinction between these two tasks is fundamental.

Professional copy editing is the stage of the content production process between copywriting and proofreading. It’s the checking of the grammar, spelling, writing style, sense and punctuation of a document before proofreading and publication.

While a copy editor ensures the content has been accurately edited, a proofreader doesn’t focus on major changes, but zeros in on minor ones. Proofreading takes place after the content has been written and edited when the document is almost a finished product.

What is copy editing?

Everyone wants their documents to be the best they can be. Whether you’ve written a document yourself or had different people contribute to it, very often your important documents will need a good tidy up or polish before they are released to their audience.

Despite your hard work and best efforts, the draft documents will almost certainly contain typos, plus sentences that can be more succinct, and paragraphs that may need to be moved around to improve clarity. If a few different writers have been involved, the document probably ‘speaks’ with different ‘voices’.

This is where a professional copy editor comes in. Their role is to ensure that a document flows, is clear, succinct and free of errors. A copy editor will review your draft content and, depending on the level of copy editing you want, they’ll make changes to it, sometimes rewriting or restructuring parts, to create a final document that is clear and succinct and clearly communicates the key messages. They’ll make sure that the writing style is consistent in tone and style with your organisation’s editorial guidelines and house style, with the text flowing seamlessly from one page to the next.

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

Professional copy editors are whizzes at grammar, syntax and proofreading. They’ll 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.

The two types of copy editing

There are two types of copy editing: light editing or substantive editing.

Light copy editing tidies up your content. The copy editor will correct grammatical mistakes and change some words to improve the sense and flow of the content and to ensure that it’s consistent. Because companies often call on different people from within their businesses to contribute to their marketing, sales and stakeholder documents, the content very often ends up with an inconsistent style or tone and plenty of errors.

Your copy editor might make suggestions to improve the structure and indicate content that doesn’t seem to make sense.

Substantive copy editing is much more in-depth. Your copy editor may re-write elements of your document, perhaps re-structure the sequence of content by moving paragraphs around, reorder words in a sentence and create eye grabbing titles or headlines.

How do copy editors work?

Your copy editor will ask for a brief – they need to know the level of copy editing you require, understand the purpose of the document, the audience, the key messages, and the style and tone you want to communicate.

A great copy editor will be adept at quickly understanding the content and context of your documents 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 appears. 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 stay alert to this.

It’s amazing how fresh eyes bring new perspective to language – often what you think makes sense needs further detail and context for someone outside of your organisation.

What types of documents do copy editors work on?

All types of documents benefit from thorough copy editing

Copy editors edit documents written by experts who need to turn their words into persuasive and interesting material for non-experts – people outside their industry who don’t need to understand the terminology.

Other times copy editors help marketing teams who want a bit more polish on their organisations’ documents or who want to keep their customers engaged by editing their communications to have the right tone and style for the audience.

As well, copy editors review draft stakeholder documents, board papers, annual reports and similar to ensure that everything is just right.

What is professional proofreading?

Professional proofreading is vital for professional, well presented documents. If your document is important in any way, you want to be confident that it is accurate.

Proofreading is not for the faint-hearted. It requires significant attention to detail and enormous concentration. Being able to correct typos, incorrect grammar and poorly constructed sentences are just part of a proofreaders job, but an essential part.

Proofreading is a specialist skill that comes from years of experience. A professional proofreader checks every word, punctuation mark and sentence in a document for accuracy and legibility.

They’ll mark up missing and doubled words; inconsistencies in headings and titles, terms and phrases; they’ll identify typos and grammatical errors; and they’ll query content that doesn’t seem to make sense. Plus, they’ll make sure that the table of contents matches the content, that the bullet points are consistent and that captions are correct.

Copy editors will proofread a document as part of their editing process; however, when a document is particularly significant, it’s vital that separate proofreading takes place after the copy editing and graphic design are complete.

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

Why is proofreading so important?

How many times have you re-read an important business document only to see a blatant error, then held your head in your hands in despair because it was too late to fix it?

When your document is going to be scrutinised by the media, the public, investors, the board, employees and other stakeholders, you want to be confident that it’s error free.

Spelling and grammar mistakes are easy to make and difficult to spotA single mistake can cost a company thousands of dollars and damage its reputation. It’s also well documented that customers don’t trust organisations that have errors in their written communications.

Proofreading is like extra insurance for your brand; it’s your investment in ensuring your documents are the best they can be – free of typos, inconsistencies and other errors.

After all your time and effort writing and perhaps designing a document, you want to be sure that everything is just right before it is released. Hence, it’s important to have proofreading of the highest possible standards.

What types of documents do proofreaders proofread?

Professional proofreaders proofread business documents that have one feature in common: they are significant in some way to the organisation that’s produced the document and so they want to be sure that it’s error free before it’s presented or published.

Typical documents for proofreading include annual reports, financial statements, sustainability reports, reconciliation action plans, industry research reports, product disclosure statements, IPO documents, website copy, tenders and proposals, and modern slavery statements.

You might be surprised at what your proofreader finds

At Proof Communications our clients are often surprised at how many mark-ups our proofreaders return with their documents.

Typically, we make 10 mark-ups a page. If your document has 50 pages, that’s around 500 mark-ups! In reality, most documents have very few typos. The most common mark-ups relate to inconsistencies.

Check out our guide to the best bloopers, clangers, typos and embarrassing errors.

Contact us today for your professional copy editing and proofreading needs

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. Get in touch or ring us on 02 8036 5532 or 0448 566 377 to learn what we can do for your business.

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