The Difference Between Proofreading and Copy Editing Explained

Jonatan Parski CEO

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difference between proofreading and copy editing

Many businesses often believe that there’s no difference between proofreading and copy editing. The main reason for this misunderstanding is because both functions require meticulously reading through a manuscript or article. However, there are chief differences between the two that sets them apart from each other.

We’re going to briefly examine the elements of proofreading and copy editing and determine whether you need both.

What Do Proofreaders Do?

To understand the difference between proofreading and copy editing, we need to explain what proofreading is. While many may think that it merely involves glancing over a document, it’s slightly more intricate than that. Your proofreader is the final line between editing and publishing your article online.

To this end, they need a particular set of proofreading skills. The main objective is to find any typographical errors before the article’s published online. However, the proofreader may send the document back for revision if there are too many issues that bring down the quality of the work.

In summary, here is a list of services that the proofreader performs:

  • Examines the article for errors in grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, font styles, and consistency.
  • Confirms that the outline, layout, and headings are correct.
  • Returns document to the writer or copy editor for any revisions.
  • Ensures that the article is ready for final publishing or printing.

When comparing the difference between proofreading and copy editing, it’s essential to highlight that the proofreader doesn’t perform any significant revisions. They may suggest amendments or improvements in the document, but making any fundamental changes enters into the territory of copy editing. The proofreader’s primary function is to assess the article’s quality before it’s published.

difference between proofreading and copy editing

What Do Copy Editors Do?

So, if the proofreader performs all the above functions, then what is an editor? Many people think that copy editors are merely human spell checkers. However, this belief is far from the truth. In examining the difference between proofreading and copy editing, we’re now going to look at the latter.

There are two primary types of editing that a copy editor might perform depending on the business requirements. An article critique is where the editor completes a detailed assessment, providing suggestions on improvement in flow, structure, and layout. On the other hand, a comprehensive edit involves thorough revisions where every sentence is analyzed and adjusted where necessary.

If you want to know what exactly does an editor do, then read through our summary below:

  • Searches for and amends errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation, and structure.
  • Confirms that all facts and statements are correct.
  • Ensures that all the articles meet any outline guidelines or instructions.
  • Checks for consistency in language localization, abbreviations, currencies, fonts, hyphenations, and capitalization.
  • Ensures that there is no plagiarism or legal liability.
  • Addresses any inconsistencies with the content or the pace of the article.
  • Confirms that keywords and key phrases meet business requirements where SEO optimization is a primary objective.
  • Checks the readability and what level of intelligence is required to understand it.

As you can see from the above, a copy editor has a more in-depth approach than a proofreader. In extremely severe circumstances, the editor may revise entire paragraphs to bring the article up to company standards. However, as an efficient business, you should put a grading system in place that determines if an editor should send the document back to the writer to rewrite it.

Do I Need Both?

There might be a difference between proofreading and copy editing, but both are essential elements for businesses requiring top-notch articles for their websites. There’s an entire psychology around what’s called ‘the writer’s blind spot. Moreover, it’s not only writers that miss typos in their work but copy editors too.

The reasoning behind the psychology is that writers and editors focus on complex tasks. In our explanation of what an editor does, you’ve seen just how much work goes into copy editing. It involves a full edit with many facets that can become very complex, depending on the nature of the article.

Therefore, editors can miss the smallest of errors. While working through elaborate sentence structures and detailed facts, they may miss an oxford comma now and again. Or, they may become so involved with confirming research that they missed some language localization mistakes.

No one’s perfect. That’s why you need to hire a proofreader after your editor has worked through the article. When the document is ready for publishing online, and the editor has completed final revisions, your proofreader gives it one more glance to ensure the quality is up to standard. As soon as they provide the final clearance, your article is ready for the online world.

Of course, you can elect to go for one rather than both, but it may compromise the quality of the work. If you’re confident in the standard of writing, then having a proofreader will work just fine. You may even be comfortable checking the work of your editor yourself instead of hiring a proofreader.

difference between proofreading and copy editing

The Difference Between Proofreading And Copy Editing

You may be in a situation where you can’t afford to appoint both a copy editor and proofreader. Under these circumstances, you’ll need to analyze your business requirement and target goals. You might want an article for light reading purposes, or you may want it to inform or provide guidance.

Once you’ve determined your key business goals, work through each difference between proofreading and copy editing below to see which one best meets your needs.

Copy EditorProofreader
Works on the initial draft and revises until finalized.Works on the final draft before publishing.
Performs detailed work.Performs surface-level work. 
Different types of editing services available, depending on requirements.Only one type of service provided.
Enhances article quality by eliminating errors and improving clarity.Eliminates minor errors for final quality improvement.
Adds or reduces word count where needed.Doesn’t alter word count.
Collaborates with the writer to improve content.No interaction with the writer needed.
Long turnaround period.Short turnaround period.


It’s undeniable that there’s a clear difference between proofreading and copy editing. While the former simply amends small errors to improve the quality of the final product, the latter performs the detailed work to correct all significant errors.

Although we recommend you hire a content agency for editing and proofreading of your content, you’ll need to decide what option best suits your business goals.

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