The Difference between Copyediting and Proofreading


So, you’ve heard that freelancing is the greatest craze and you’re ready to become the best copy editor in the world. You’ve also been asked whether you’d like to be a freelancer proofreader or copyeditor and well.

“Hold the phone, aren’t these terms one and the same? Isn’t copy editor a fancier term for a proofreader? A word that only those pretentious Letters students use?” Oh, you look like you need some enlightenment.

Let’s take a quick look at the difference between proofreading and copyediting and afterward you’ll be able to scoff at those who can’t say proofreaders apart from copyeditors.


A copyeditor is a living spellchecker. His or her job is to prepare a manuscript for print; this includes: looking for grammatical errors, inconsistent ideas, god-awful repetitions, incomplete or poor-quality phrases, possible plagiarism hits and erroneous spelling and rewriting in extreme cases.

In other words, the copyeditor’s job is to beautify and generally burnish a manuscript that can be either for a novel, criticism, a book of poetry, etc. Did you ever wonder why almost all writers hate their editors with a passion?

Here’s the answer: copyeditors are remorseless when it comes to adjusting a text. They can cut down entire paragraphs if they feel like they don’t do the overall text justice.

What you didn’t know is that most of these writers usually say “That’s so much better now” in the wake of the copyeditor’s going to town.

Copyeditors should get some awards for all the patience they exhibit when they dream of murder. I’ve been in their ranks for quite some time and I’ve actually contemplated building my own hydrogen bomb and piling all the writers on a faraway island that I could nuke without repercussions.


Proofreaders do an entirely different job than copyeditors and it’s quite difficult to understand how anyone could mistake them for one another. This is the process of publishing a book in a nutshell:

The author finishes the manuscript, has a couple of glasses of wine (coffee, in my case), swears under his/her breath and sends the said manuscript to the hangman, aka the editor. The hangman works his magic on the manuscript and lo and beholds – the book’s ready to hit the printing machines.

But before it does that, it stops by at a guy called a proofreader. What does this proofreader do exactly? The publishing house grants him a proof version of the printed manuscript.

The proofreader takes his time and does quality control for the book. Proofreaders, unlike copyeditors, busy themselves only with the aesthetical side of things. They are not editors – their job is to see whether or not the text is properly aligned all throughout the book, if the numbering of the pages is correct, if the page breaks are fine, etc.

If a proofreader spots too many grammatical errors or inconsistencies, the mass production of the book will be halted, and it will be sent back for another round of copyediting, probably to a different, more experienced editor.

The Bottom Line

The journey of a book until it reaches the shelves of the library is long and tedious. We seem to glorify writers and are always in awe of their writing skills. However, the copyeditors and proofreaders are the unsung heroes of the publishing environment.

Stephen King, the scary dude you probably grew up reading, has editors and proofreaders. That’s one of the reasons why his writing is basically infallible. There you go – now you know what a proofreader is and what a copyeditor isn’t