The Differences Between Copyediting and Proofreading

The Differences Between Copyediting and Proofreading

Matthew Gurteen

Have you ever had to copyedit your own work or somebody else’s? What about proofreading it? For any new writer, the difference between copyediting and proofreading can be confusing. It doesn’t have to be, however. In this article, we will explain, in simple terms, the difference between copyediting and proofreading so that when you are polishing your next novel, short stories, or poems, they are the best they can be.


Copyediting, loosely defined, is when you edit the clarity of your document. It happens after a general edit, which focuses on the plot and characters. By the time you come to copyedit your text, you should have a reasonably confident picture of your overall story. It just needs fine-tuning.

This is where copyediting comes in. During this step, you review your ‘copy’, making minor improvements to your tone and flow by editing word choice. A ‘copy’ can refer to any digital form of text you are trying to publish, whether it is a novel, short story, poem, or anything with text on it. During copyediting, you will also double-check your facts if they are essential to your document.

You can copyedit your document yourself, or you can hire an editor to help you. Sometimes a second pair of eyes is crucial so that your message is clear and to prepare the ‘copy’ for publication.

Examples of things that a copyeditor may change during this step include making sure that all references are accurate, ensuring that all language is inclusive, and keeping the narrative voice consistent, so it doesn’t, for instance, slip from first person to third person. A copyeditor may also make sure all bold, underlined, and italicised text is consistent and checks your characters’ physical characteristics.

Copyediting can take any amount of time, depending on the type of document being edited. On a
standard document, however, expect copyediting to take around an hour every 1000-3000 words.

Below is a list of essential features that separate copyediting from proofreading:

  • Focuses on fact-checking, word choice, and clarity

The essential point of proofreading is to make sure your document makes sense when read and that
everything you do say is correct.

  • Happens first

You will always copyedit before proofreading your work. This order is so your word choice is clear,
and facts correct before you edit the spelling and grammar. Clarity is most important.

  • May add or remove passages.

Copyediting may lead to parts of your document being cut, or you may have to add passages for clarity.

  • Finetunes your work for a target audience

The target audience should always be in the back of your mind when copyediting. If it does not
sound clear to them, your ‘copy’ will never be published.

  • NOT a final draft

It is important to remember that, after copyediting, there is still work to be done. No copyeditor will
make your text perfect. Copyeditors will, however, allow it to progress to the next stage of the
editing process, proofreading.


Proofreading, also simply defined, is when you edit the spelling and grammar of your document. It always happens after a copyedit and is often the final stage of editing.

During this step, you or an editor will go through your document again, running it through a spell- checking software, so that there are no inconsistencies in your writing. Your ‘proof’ will then be marked for corrections.

A ‘proof’ refers to a draft of your document similar to a ‘copy’. ‘Proofs’ can be physical, however, to give your publishers a clearer picture of how the document will look. You can proofread a document yourself or hire another editor. If you are editing your proof yourself, however, make sure you read it out loud. Reading a ‘proof’ out loud makes identifying mistakes easier. Only focus on one mistake at a time as well. Rushing through the proofreading stage will just lead to mistakes being missed.

It is extremely unlikely during the proofreading stage that your document will contain no errors, so be prepared to edit your document again with your reader in mind. Be prepared also to proofread your document multiple times. Proofreading a document rarely happens once, as spelling and grammatical mistakes are often missed. The goal of proofreading is to reduce these errors to zero.

Below is a list of essential features that separate proofreading from copyediting.

  • Focuses on spelling and grammar

The essential point of proofreading is to correct spelling and grammar. Whereas copyediting focuses
on clarity and structure, proofreading is about the little mistakes that often go overlooked.

  • Happens second

Proofreading will always happen after copyediting. There is no point in editing spelling unless the
document makes sense.

  • Does not add or remove passages

Although proofreading often leads to several changes, you are unlikely to add or remove any
significant passages at this stage. Proofreading is more about correcting what you already have.

  • IS a final draft

After you have proofread your work several times, it will likely be ready for publication. Congratulate yourself on making it through the editing process!

Those, simply put, are the differences between copyediting and proofreading. Now, when you are editing your next novel, short stories, or poems, you should confidently know the difference between the two terms. Copyediting and proofreading are not entirely different, however. They both involve reading a text closely to make it more accessible for readers.

The Differences Between Copyediting and Proofreading