What Is the Difference Between Copy Editing and Proofreading?

By Special K – ETMG Writer/Editor

Copy editing and proofreading have historically referenced different kinds of work, in today’s digital world, people often use the terms interchangeably.  The definition of copy editing has remained clear, but the same cannot be said about “proofreading.” Some folks use “proofread” to indicate they’d like to have a fresh set of eyes look over a document before it goes into production. Other folks use the word to describe the kinds of things a copy editor does. While there is some overlap, technically, these terms do not reference the same kind of work.

Copy editing focuses on improving formatting, style, accuracy, and clarity, and it occurs before proofreading.  A copy editor polishes the prose and determines that appropriate punctuation, grammar and style guidelines are followed.

A document that has been copy edited still needs to be proofread. Proofreaders look for typos, formatting errors, and other kinds of mistakes in the text or graphics that occurred as a result of human error or software glitches. Proofreaders also confirm that photos, images and graphs are correctly identified and placed in the appropriate context to supporting text. Proofreading is the last step in the editorial cycle before a piece of marketing collateral goes into production.

One way to think about the difference between copy editing and proofreading is to think of copy editing as the process of improving the way in which a message is communicated. Proofreading, on the other hand, occurs after the message has been thoroughly reworked. Instead of focusing on changing or improving the message, proofreading ensures (or attempts to ensure) that the final product is free of mistakes.

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