What’s the difference between copyediting and proofreading? You can make better decisions and get a more satisfactory outcome if you understand the differences before hiring an editor or proofreader to help you.
There are generally three broad types of editing, which come handy at different stages in your writing.
|(1) Developmental editing / substantive editing||“Big-picture” editing. Looks at overall organization and logical flow. “Developmental” editing usually takes place early in the writing process and can help you plan your document, while “substantive” editing is usually for when you have a good draft ready.||Word*||Towards beginning OR when a draft with all the pieces is ready|
|(2) Copyediting / line editing||Editing at the paragraphs and sentences level. Checks for syntax, grammar, spelling, as well as clarity, flow, and overall consistency. Looks at details like table and figure numbers, heading styles, and general application of a specific “style.” Could include consistency check for references **||Word||When a complete draft is ready|
|(3) Proofreading||Polishing minute details of final version. Checks final text for typos and misspellings, inconsistencies in numbering, capitalization, and formatting, “styles,” etc.||PDF or Word||Last thing before submission|
|* “Word” could mean any working document, where the text is movable/editable.|
** Checking and cleaning up references is a big, time-consuming task. Make sure to agree with your editor whether they will take it on as part of the job. If it is, realize that the cost is going to be significantly higher.
While it’s somewhat easier to distinguish between (2) copyediting and (3) proofreading, the line between substantive editing and copyediting is blurrier.
Sure, you could get copyediting that primarily focuses on grammar, spelling, syntax, punctuation, and consistency issues.
But you could also get an intensive copyedit that, in addition, looks at logical flow, identifies gaps, and provides suggestions for moving/deleting/consolidating paragraphs and sentences.
Tips for when you’re hiring a copyeditor/proofreader
Different editors/companies define these services levels somewhat differently, so when you’re considering hiring someone to help you out, make sure you:
- Identify first what kind of editing you need/want, even before you contact potential copyeditors/proofreaders
- Communicate your specific requirements to the editor/proofreader before you hire them (for example, here are 6 things you can tell your editor/proofreader before she starts)
We copyeditors and proofreaders are here to help you get to your envisioned end result–but we need you to tell us what that is because your requirements are unique as you.
- SfEP’s handy fact sheet: Proofreading vs Copyediting