Proofreading and copy-editing: what’s the difference?

What do proofreaders do?

The proofreader is the detail spotter who weeds out errors (typos, spellings, punctuation) in books and other materials, but doesn’t make substantial changes or rewrite them. Proofreading is the final stage of the editorial process for book publishers, and involves working on the proof before final printing.

It’s essential to have a good eye for detail and a cautious approach. Proofreaders don’t make decisions on style points or make major changes if they don’t like the author’s writing style.

What do copy-editors do?

The copy-editor works in detail before materials are designed and prepared for printing. Copy-editing for publishers involves working on the author’s original typescript, making the book the best it can be. You correct typing mistakes, of course, but you also keep a close watch for a broader range of problems, such as inconsistencies, issues of style, or bad grammar.

It’s a broader job than proofreading, and copy-editors are usually paid slightly more. They have to tread a delicate line in order to respect the author’s voice but at the same time ensure the meaning is clear.