What’s the Difference Between an Editor and a Proofreader?

Many writers think they’re completing due diligence when they find and hire an editor to review their written work. But it’s important for the author and editor to be on the same page regarding what type of review the editor will be completing. Knowing exactly what type of work requires a copy editor, line editor, or proofreader can save you time, tension, and money.

If you’re still considering whether you need any type of editor at all, read this post about why human editors are still necessary professions.

Editor and Proofreader are Different Roles

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Whether you’ve created an academic paper for publication, a nonprofit brochure, or your manuscript draft, the last thing you want to do is hire the wrong type of editor. It could mean you need to shell out another payment to the correct type of editor, and delay the publication release of your work.

Knowing the differences among copy editors, line editors, and proofreaders can help you avoid these headaches.

What a Copy Editor Does

A copy editor is the most vague of the editing/proofreading jobs. The requirements for copy editing may vary depending on the publication and the specific editor. But think of the copy editor as your technical rule-following language expert. Copy editors will typically comb through texts searching for:

  • errors in grammar and spelling
  • word inconsistencies (hyphens/UK vs U.S. spelling)
  • plot inconsistencies
  • repetitions
  • jargon
  • wordiness/convoluted language

A copy editor will have a style, like “The Associated Press Stylebook” or “The Chicago Manual of Style,” to make sure the text is uniform. In addition, they may use a house style with more specific rules.

A copy editor may make some changes to the text to make your point more clear. You may get your work back with questions if portions of the text need clarification. Copy editors may also rewrite some sentences if the structure is too repetitive, or if there are run-on sentences in the text.

What a Copy Editor Does Not Do

Here’s where the variance comes in. Your contract with your editor may specify tasks that the copy editor must also complete, such as uploading material into WordPress, but these are additional duties. Copy editors generally aren’t tasked with the following:

  • fact checking
  • extensive restructuring/rewriting
  • graphic design
  • photo sourcing

If these are tasks you’d like completed, you may want to negotiate it into your contract with your editor. But the safest bet would be to hire someone who does this work professionally.

Once your copy editor has finished her review, your work is ready to be sent to a proofreader.

What a Line Editor Does

Adding to the confusion, line editors and copy editors have totally different areas of focus. While your copy editor is meticulous about errors in the text, a line editor is honing in on your sentence structure, flow, and creative use of language. The line editor is the artsy, creative sister to the rigid rule-following copy editor.

A line editor is looking at how your tone and choice of vocabulary relays the intended message of the text. They are not looking up style guide rules or making sure that the text is error-free. But they will help your text flow by assisting with engaging transitions and enrapturing word choices.

What a Proofreader Does

Once your writing has gone through the gauntlet of the copy editor or line editor (or both), it’s typically ready for the proofreader. This is the last check in the line of editors.

Corrections in the text should┬áhave already been caught by the editor, so the proofreader isn’t necessarily looking for mistakes in the grammar and spelling. If the proofreader catches stray errors, he or she will certainly correct them, but too many means the manuscript needs to go back to the copy editor.

Proofreading is literally derived from reading the proofed pages of a manuscript before it goes to publish. The proofreader is the final check for page number accuracy, formatting accuracy, any weird breaks between pages, or spacing issues.

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