What do you need? Copyediting vs. proofreading

What do you need? Copyediting vs. proofreading

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.

TypeWhatFile typeWhen
(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 editingEditing 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 **WordWhen a complete draft is ready
(3) ProofreadingPolishing minute details of final version. Checks final text for typos and misspellings, inconsistencies in numbering, capitalization, and formatting, “styles,” etc.PDF or WordLast 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.

(Psst…I offer both types of (2) copyediting services, depending on your need. And (3) proofreading.)

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:

  1. Identify first what kind of editing you need/want, even before you contact potential copyeditors/proofreaders
  2. 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.


If you would like to discuss whether we might be a good fit for your academic writing project, send me details via the contact form or email me at info@theclarityeditor.com.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.