Copyeditor or Proofreader, Which One Do You Need?

editing proofreading publishing
(c) Nic McPhee, Flikr

It’s weird.

For a profession that deals with words we have quite a few names for the same thing. Most of it’s down to location, for instance US and UK editors have their own, slightly varying, terminology. But Hell, we can’t even settle on copy editor, copy-editor or copyeditor. It actually shows what a difficult job we all have. There is often no one true way.

There is just the way of the word.

And it can be pretty tricky for the uninitiated – those writers and business owners who need the services of a wordsmith, perhaps for the first time.

The questions I get asked most from clients, and those requesting a quote, are:

What is the difference between a copy editor and a proofreader?’

and, more often than not

I’m not sure, but do I need my work edited or proofread?

Well the simple answer is that editing happens after the manuscript (or copy) has been written and before it’s typeset. The proofreading happens as a final check through, after the book, brochure, website (or any other format you happen to work with) has been set out and is ready to go.

Simply put: copy-editing makes sure the writing works and proofreading is that final check to make sure that the writing and layout works.

I could write reams and reams about it, but the best way is always a video, so I’m going to share here a wonderful creation by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), of which I am an Advanced Professional Member.

It should answer all of your basic questions and set you on the way to understanding which level of editorial help you need.

If you need your words copyedited or proofread, contact me for a no obligation quote.

2 Comments on “Copyeditor or Proofreader, Which One Do You Need?

  1. Interesting post, Sara. I think the problem is that we’re using publishing jargon (‘copy’, ‘proof’) to label our services, even when advertising them to non-publishers. Maybe we should use different wording altogether, except for ‘edit’, which does actually mean something outside Publisher World. I’ve already been thinking about this lately, and I feel an SfEP forum post and/or blog post coming on (not to mention some changes on my website) …

    • Got it in one Graham. It think the problem is semantics; you don’t want to talk down to those who know the right words to use, or confuse those that don’t. I think a glossary is in order (something I’ve been thinking about too).

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