Copyediting vs. proofreading: how they’re different (and why it matters)

Copyediting vs. proofreading: how they’re different (and why it matters)

Did you know a copy editor and proofreader are two different things? As a business owner, the distinction may not seem important to you – but it is! As Brisbane-based copy experts, we at Search And Site Authoring are going to take a little time today to run you through the differences – and why it matters.

You see, it all comes down to different kinds of problems at different stages of the writing process…

Copyediting: what is it?

Copyediting happens after a draft is established but before a proofread is undertaken. It includes checking for issues involving:

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Style
  • Formatting
  • Punctuation.

If rewrites of the copy in question are needed, this may also fall to the copy editor. Issues with transitions, wordiness or jargon may be addressed. It also falls to the copy editor (or copyeditor – with or without the space is acceptable) to ensure the piece fits with the publication or website for which it is intended. Often, the points the copyeditor raises will not have black and white right/wrong resolutions. Rather, they may be matters of taste, tone and consistency.

This matters more than you might suspect. As my English professor used to point out: “If someone is drowning at sea, desperately waving their arms, and with their final breath cries out, what are they going to yell: Assist me! or Help!? Both are grammatically correct, but that doesn’t make them both right.”

A copy editor is sensitised to the shades and registers of meaning (of which that drowning example was an extreme case) that pitch a piece of written work to be appropriate for its audience and use.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is one of the final steps before publication. It happens after a piece has been edited, laid out and designed. The proofreader’s job is to weed out typographical errors to ensure the finished product is polished. They don’t suggest major edits to the piece in question, rather, they focus on the surface level details of a proof. The errors they pick up tend to have those black and white right/wrong resolutions. Sometimes, a proofreader will find nothing at all – it’s rare, but it does happen!

More often, a proofreader will find errors like:

  • “Fat finger” mistakes – “Brisbane’s daily newspaper is The Cour4ier-Mail
  • Incorrect word use – “Theirs nothing like a Jeep.”
  • Misreported facts – “The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011…”
  • Transcription errors between writing platforms – e.g. some platforms and fonts distinguish between the minute mark, the curled quote and the straight quote – `, ‘ and ‘ – and some others don’t. 

A proofreader will generally not comment upon the “meaning” or quality of what they are checking. Likening things to do a factory line, you could say that copyediting is part of the design process, whereas proofreading is quality control.

Word processors and apps like Grammarly are getting pretty good at proofreading these days, but they are still not 100-percent reliable. Neither are human proofreaders, of course. This is why your human proofreader will use a computer to double-check their work. You’d be surprised at how many times a computer suggestion is woefully wrong or it simply doesn’t pick up a glaring mistake: it takes a human reader to catch it.

Why it matters

Proofreading and copyediting are separate tasks with the same objective: to get a piece of written material ready for publication. Because, once something is live you can retract it, but you can’t take it back. When you’re looking for an expert to help you better your copywriting services, it’s important you know what you’re looking for.

A professional wordsmith undertaking copy editing will work very differently from a wordsmith working in the proofreader phase. Both services are an essential step in the publication journey, but they’re distinct ones that can take place months apart.

Copy editors and proofreaders can help you:

Avoid turning your clients off your services

Something as small as a spelling mistake can have real consequences when it comes to how potential clients view your business. Just as you wouldn’t invite prospects to an unkempt office, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of professional copy.

Much of both tasks comes down to attention to detail. You have to convince your prospects that you’re good at your job — that your attention to detail is high. Failing to pick up even a basic writing error — an error a proofreader would have flagged — proves that you are inattentive to whomever notices. And if it can slip for one thing, they have little reason to believe it won’t slip for others.

Build credibility

In today’s content-heavy marketing sphere, you’re essentially building your credibility with words. Even if your business has little to do with writing, your “copy” (shorthand for any words used in sales collateral or messaging) is an essential tool when it comes to building brand influence and proving your expertise.

Copyediting and proofreading combine to ensure the copy associated with your brand is polished, professional and effective. This, in turn, helps your business build credibility within your industry.

Avoid muddying your message

Most of us read in an intuitive way. Words and sentences combine to convey complex ideas in a seamless manner. This automatic process is one of the reasons mistakes, when made, tend to stick out. We’ve all had this experience: stumbling over a glaring spelling mistake or having to read a sentence twice because the grammar didn’t gel. 

Mistakes like this muddy the message you’re trying to convey. They force your audience to stop, break their train of thought and focus on the error rather than the idea you’re trying to impart. Copy editors and proofreaders each have a role in ensuring this doesn’t happen. Their job is to make sure your message is imparted clearly and effectively to your audience.

Need copyediting services in Brisbane?

The roles of both the copyeditor and the proofreader involve catching and correcting mistakes to make readers feel confident in trusting any information on offer. The roles are distinct but serve a similar purpose: getting a piece of writing ready for publication. And if publishing your content in the right way matters for your business, then you need people to fulfill those functions. The more expert those people are, the better! 

Need copyediting services in Brisbane? Search And Site Authoring provides copywriting, copyediting and proofreading services to the greater South East Queensland. Get in touch today via to see how we can help your business succeed.

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