What is the Difference Between Copy-Editing vs. Proofreading?

I think there is a common misconception about copy-editing a written piece of work. Most people think that it encompasses reading, fixing mistakes, fixing layout, and providing suggestions on content. But the editing process is actually broken into several stages – and that is for a good reason. Do you ever read your own work, submit it for a deadline or to publish and then get the final copy and realize it is riddled with mistakes? It happens to the best of us! When
we look at something for hours and you are aware of the message you are trying to send, we start to look past the errors we are making. Sometimes it is redundancy, sometimes misspelled words, and sometimes it is just a comma here and there for clarity. Whatever it might be, we could all benefit from an extra set of eyes – that is where a copy editor and a proofreader come in.

Copy-Editing entails someone sitting down and reading the work for: clarity, misspelled words, grammatical mistakes, punctuation and fact checking accuracy. This is what I call the “red-pen” stage. I like to put pen to paper, I think it is easier to focus without the distraction of the internet sitting behind whatever I am working on. I will print the draft and sit with my red, fine tip marker (that is important, the pen needs to feel right!) and go through the work line by line. It is painstaking and often takes hours, depending on the length, and sometimes it needs to be done more than once, because even a copy-editor can miss things in the first round of edits.

Once a copy edit has been completed, the piece will go to a final layout. This is when things are finalized like headings, graphs, illustrations, page numbers, etc. and put into the format that the writer wants it published in. Once the final layout is complete, the proofreader gets to work. The proofreader will look for small errors – misspelled words and minor grammatical errors. Their main job is to proof for clarity and layout, making sure that page numbers line up and that graphs or illustrations are where they need to be. Proofreading is the final step before publishing and is incredibly important, essentially the last line of defense in a piece of written work.

Wherever you are in the writing process, it is incredibly beneficial to have someone else look at your work. Often, we sit with something for so long that our brains see past the errors and inconsistencies. An extra set of eyes will catch things small like spelling mistakes, but sometimes they will catch things much bigger that can change the way your work sounds when it is read.