FAQs: What do people mean by 'proofreading' (and 'copy-editing')?

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Click any of the frequently asked questions below to see the corresponding answer.

What do people mean by 'proofreading' (and 'copy-editing')?

Many people will ask you to 'proofread' something, but actually want you to copy-edit it. Because people often confuse copy-editing with proofreading, you will sometimes see hybrid terms like 'proof-editing'.

Could I do this work?

First, do you have the basics: good spelling, punctuation and grammar? You cannot be a successful proofreader or copy-editor without all three, but these skills will only get you to the starting line.

Could I be a proofreader?

If you naturally read quickly you will need to develop a sense of when to read slowly, and how to spot different kinds of mistake (many kinds have nothing to do with spelling, grammar or accuracy). Few bosses or clients will want to pay what it would cost to achieve perfection; you will usually need to limit yourself to essential corrections or you will find it hard to make a living.

Could I be a copy-editor?

To be a successful copy-editor, your English and general knowledge must be well above average. Even then, copy-editing may not be your cup of tea. If you find it frustrating to follow a house style that hyphenates where you don't, if you are easily bored or don't like working on a text where you disagree with the author, if you find it impossible to do a less-than-perfect job (if that's what your boss or your client wants), then this probably isn't the job for you.