FAQs: What is the difference between copy-editing and proofreading?

Page owner: Standards director

For more detail, see Copy-editing; Proofreading.

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

On the difference between copy-editing and proofreading:

They are both editing, which is wrestling with words; but proofreading is like wrestling in a broom cupboard.

Gerard M-F Hill, SfEP mentoring and tests director 2005

Do I need both?

Achieving acceptable levels of quality and accuracy is harder than it first seems. There's a lot to think about, you get distracted and one pair of eyes is not enough.

So what's the difference?

Copy-editors get the raw material into shape for publication: they edit copy. When they have finished, and the layout has been created by the designer and/or typesetter, the work needs to be ready to go. It's like putting on a play: these stages are the rehearsals.

Proofreaders do the quality check and final tidy-up: they read proofs. They pick up anything the copy-editor missed and check that nothing went wrong at the design/typesetting stage. Proofreading is the last stage, the dress rehearsal, before the public get to see the result.

They are both editing, which is wrestling with words; but proofreading is like wrestling in a broom cupboard.

What is 'copy'?

The copy is the raw material. It can be anything – a novel, website, journal article, leaflet, podcast, textbook, exam, menu, flyer, game or even a tee-shirt – and it may include various kinds of text, tables, graphs, diagrams, illustrations or animations.

What is a 'proof'?

Copy-editors, designers and typesetters make many small changes. There has to be a quality check to prove that the changes have worked. That's the proof: supposedly the final version. The proofreader marks any last-minute corrections on the proof, and the printer or webmaster adds them in before pressing the Go button.