Proofreading? Copy Editing? On Your Marks!

Proofreading pencil

Historically, copy editing and proofreading have described different kinds of work. But in today’s digital world, people sometimes use these terms interchangeably.

First Copy Editing…

Copy editing remains what it has always been: the preparation of copy—websites, poetry, or anything in between—for publication by correcting, trimming, or adjusting it for readability and coherence. A copy editor polishes the prose and determines that the draft reflects appropriate punctuation, grammar and style guidelines. Copy editing focuses on improving formatting, style, accuracy and clarity. It occurs before proofreading.

While the definition of copy editing has remained stable, the same can’t be said about proofreading or proofing. Some people think that having someone proofread a document is nothing more than having a fresh set of eyes looking at the copy before it goes into production. Other people use it to describe what a copy editor does. And while there’s some overlap, proofreading isn’t really either of these things.

…Then Proofreading

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 occur as the result of human error or software glitches. Proofreaders confirm that photos, images and graphs are correctly identified and placed correctly to support the text. Proofreading is also the last step in the editorial cycle before a piece of marketing collateral goes into production.

Another way of thinking about the differences between copy editing and proofreading is to think of copy editing as the process of improving the way in which the copy communicates its message. Proofreading, on the other hand, happens after the message is agreed upon and considered stable: it ensures that the message is free of errors.

Copy editing and proofreading have one thing in common: the set of proofreaders’ marks that indicate deletion, paragraph, transposition, comma, capitalize, italics, and so on, which are needed and recognized by both.

To learn the proofreaders’ marks, here’s a link to the Chicago Manual of Style’s excellent list:

Chicago Manual of Style Proofreaders’ Marks

By: ETMG Social Media Team