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What’s the Difference Between Copyediting and Proofreading?

There are BIG differences between copyediting and proofreading

If you’re not familiar with the specifics, you may think copyediting and proofreading are synonymous. But they’re not! It’s safer to think of them as cousins — related, but definitely different. Both, however, are necessary for a high-quality finished product.

As a proofreader, you should be the final pair of eyes looking at a project rather than the first or even second pair. By the time you get the project, it should have had all the content rewritten and ready to go. You are the one who double-checks to make sure no embarrassing grammatical and spelling errors slip through.

Why Does It Matter Whether It’s Called Copyediting or Proofreading?

It may seem silly to make a big deal over the differences between the two, but it’s actually KEY! Copyeditors can charge way more than proofreaders because it’s a lot more work to go through and rewrite, reword, and rearrange than it is to proofread.

And that’s okay! Proofreaders play a very specific, very important role. It’s always a good idea to have a copyeditor go over a document first and then have a proofreader make sure all the editing went well. A copyeditor can’t focus on copyediting AND proofreading at the same time. That’s why having both a copyeditor and a proofreader is so important… and why it’s crucial those two roles are kept separate.

It’s important to know the differences. Not only will it save you a lot of time and stress when you sit down and work on proofreading a document, it also ensures you are getting paid properly for the work you are doing.

Does the GP Course Train Me to Copyedit and Proofread?

The General Proofreading course trains students to become proofreaders. Proofreading is the foundation for editorial skills, so you should hone this first before expanding into copyediting. Although your Eagle Eyes may automatically be drawn to errors that fall into the copyediting category, you have to remember the scope of your project — the work you’ve been hired to do.

You might be thinking, “So what if I suggest a new title and headings for the article I’m proofreading? I want to impress my client and make sure I’m hired for future projects.”

Whoa, let’s slow down here. You’ve been hired as a proofreader for an article. Presumably, you’ve negotiated a flat rate for the project. If you move into the realm of copyediting, there are a few things that might happen.

First, your client may be completely impressed — impressed that you did the work of a copyeditor AND a proofreader for the price of a proofreader. Unfortunately, this means the client will likely expect the same from you if they hire you again. If you try to raise your rates, you may well run into resistance because you set the expectation that you would do the work of two people for the price of a proofreader. Not good.

Second, your client may be frustrated that you marked types of errors that the client wasn’t looking to change at this point in the project. Maybe you ended up missing an obvious spelling or formatting error because you were trying to do both copyediting and proofreading. Now you have a frustrated client who is unsure of your abilities as a proofreader. Also not good.

Moral of the story? Stick to your (proofreading) lane. 🙂

What if I Want to Become a Copyeditor?

I’m always about learning new skills! If you feel you’ve mastered your proofreading skills and want to take your freelance business to the next level, I have a few suggestions:

  • Take a copyediting course (or courses!)
  • Read books and listen to podcasts about grammar, punctuation, and all things copyediting
  • Engage with other copyeditors and potential clients on social media

The Editorial Freelancers Association is a great place to start for all three. There is a membership fee to join, but they offer a ton of free resources to get you started.

Our Take

Proofreading is the perfect foundation for building your editorial skills. Many proofreaders expand their services to offer copyediting to their clients. But smart proofreaders will realize if they are asked to proofread a job, they will stick to just proofreading. If a client wants you to do both copyediting and proofreading, you should make sure the client is willing to pay for both services and that there is an agreement to copyedit one (or more) drafts and to proofread the final draft. Know your worth — your time and talent are valuable!

Your Turn

Do you think proofreading sounds like a good fit for you? After you master your proofreading skills, would you consider learning how to copyedit? Let me know in the comments 🙂

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  1. Looking forward to learning more about proofreading. I’m a retired person looking for a way to better use my time and make some extra money.

    1. Welcome aboard! We’re happy to have you join us, Joseph!

  2. It seems wise to develop skills which run along the same vein. I’d definitely want to study copyediting as well. I’m curious though. Could a person pitch themselves as a copyeditor and proofreader thus earning the pay of two roles from one client.

    1. Yes! We have lots of grads who do both. It is all about the skills and the more skills you have the easier it is to solve problems for clients!

  3. Ilove to read so yes I’de be very interested in learning to proofread and yes once I’ve mastered this I would be very interested in advancing into the editing portion of this career!

  4. Thanks so much for talking about the differences between copyediting and proofreading. My brother's business has gotten bigger and he wants to make sure he presents himself and the company as professional. He's been looking into hiring some professionals to help ensure all his documents and speeches are to the level he wants them to help him achieve that goal.

  5. I would definitely consider copyediting as I did a lot of that preparing grants for my boss. I know I need courses in copyediting, but I have a pretty good foundation. When I owned my own small publishing for science/ math activities for k-8th teachers, I did major copyediting for several of the teachers who submitted book drafts that we ended up publishing.

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