Editing 101: Proofreading vs. copy editing

An open laptop computer next to a cup of coffee and a writing pad.

by Matthew Anderson

If you’ve ever written anything, chances are you’ve wanted someone to read it over after you were done. When we write, it’s relieving to have another person catch awkward mistakes lurking in our text and ensure that our writing is understandable and clear.

Especially when we’re writing for business — when the way we present ourselves reflects on the quality of the company we represent — it’s important to have an editor review our work. That’s as true for independent small businesses here in Bellingham as it is for large corporations in Seattle and beyond.

What do editors do, exactly?

Essentially, the job of an editor is to improve language. Editorial services encompass a broad array of activities, including fixing grammar issues, guiding content and direction, improving clarity and enhancing readability.

You’ll find editors engaged in a variety of activities, such as reviewing blog posts to be read by the public, guiding the direction of magazine articles or editing public speeches to ensure that the message is clear and to the point.

Wherever and whenever writing needs to be improved, editors are the people for the job.

What is the difference between copy editing and proofreading?

The most common types of editing services are related to copy editing and proofreading. The words are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually separate tasks that come during different stages of the writing process.

Copy editing is the practice of reading through the rough copy, or text, of the piece to be edited — be it a corporate statement, customer letter, informational blog article, press release or email newsletter.

During this process, a copy editor will fix spelling mistakes, tighten up the grammar and reword unclear phrases. Copy editors also ensure that the text adheres to the style guide of choice.

Common style guides include the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (AKA the APA Style Manual).*

Don’t be afraid; a good editor can help ensure that what you wrote is what you meant to write.

Style guides ensure that usage remains consistent, and that’s critical because consistency in language is key to understanding. Good copy editors also flag issues with the text that need further review by the author, and they may verify facts as well, should you need that.

* Here at PR Consulting in Bellingham, AP Style is our guide of choice,
but we can edit to other styles as well.

Proofreading is the last step of the editing and design process. A proofreader looks at the almost-finished document — a brochure, corporate report or magazine, for example — and makes any final changes necessary before the page is sent to the printer. A proofreader makes sure that the page numbers are correct, that headlines are finished, that images and text are properly aligned, that the right photos are in the right places, and that text is sized consistently, among similar tasks. Because the copy editing stage has been completed by this point, a proofreader generally reads the text more quickly, looking for misspelled words overlooked during earlier rounds of editing, unnecessary spaces, incorrect punctuation and other common mistakes. For most online-only publications, such as blog articles that have gone through copy editing, a proofreader is not strictly necessary; however, it is good practice to have someone review the published article as a final quality check.

What other types of editing are there?

The other main type of editing is called developmental editing. This step in the editorial services tree comes closer to the beginning of the writing process. A developmental editor would be the person to help a writer (yourself or a staff member who writes on behalf of your business) close gaps in their messaging or find additional ways to tell the story. Developmental editing (also called substantial editing or content development) usually involves more extensive rewriting or content reorganization.

Of the three main types of editing — developmental editing, copy editing and proofreading — the former is the most labor intensive, with copy editing and proofreading typically coming in second and third, respectively.

If you’ve written any text for your business, you might find yourself in need of editing services. Whether it’s text you’ve written for the website, a speech you need to give at a Whatcom County networking group, flyers for distribution to potential clients or a media release about business changes, PR Consulting can help.

Our editorial experts have years of experience editing all kinds of documents, including university brochures, business magazines, international reports, blog posts, corporate letters, and many more. Contact us! We can help ensure your next business communication is clear, professional and error-free.

Read more: Tips for better grammar and error-free writing

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