Differences Between Proofreading and Copyediting

Do you know the differences between proofreading and copyediting? In this post, I’ll discuss what each skill involves.

Proofreading has changed over the years. Back when all content was printed (not that long ago, really) a proofreader’s job was to read the final draft and check it to make sure there were no mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation. Very straightforward.

Now proofreading has evolved and become almost synonymous with copyediting. To some degree.

I personally believe it’s in a proofreader’s best interest to learn copyediting skills. If you’re going to invest time into learning proofreading, you can do it for copyediting, as well. Go beyond basic and learn more so you can grow a long-term career.

Keep reading to find out more and why I teach both proofreading and copyediting.

What Is Proofreading?

A proofreader’s job is to read through content to correct any spelling, punctuation, grammar and word usage errors in the final copy of text.

Proofreading is considered the easiest form of editing since there’s no heavy research or rewriting involved. While you need a great command of English, you don’t need a special degree or certificate to work as a proofreader.

In many instances I find that people will advertise for proofreaders expecting copyediting skills. Often, people aren’t aware of the differences between the two. Some even assume they’re the same thing.

What Proofreaders Do:

  • fix grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • look for incorrect word use
  • correct formatting errors
  • follow the writer’s or copy editor’s style guide

The majority of content out there doesn’t go through a tiered editing process like books do at a publishing house. When a book is being published it has already passed by several pairs of eyes before it reaches the proofreader, which means it’s in a pretty clean state. A proofreader’s job is to read the book and correct anything that was missed by the line editor or copy editor.

If you’re proofreading a blog post, brochure or letter, chances are that the only people who’ve seen the content before you was the writer. In this case, very little editing or proofreading has been done. In this case, it’d be invaluable to have copyediting skills to draw from, as you’d likely have to go deeper with the content to ensure high quality.

What Is Copyediting?

Copyediting is a technical approach to text that requires meticulous attention to details while also looking at the bigger picture. This means that copy editors make sure what was written on page 1 is consistent with what’s written on page 40. They also make sure the writer’s message and voice comes across clearly.

Copyeditors do a lot of research, and it’s not uncommon to become practically an expert on specific topics. A lot of books I proofread are Western fiction so I know more about ranching and animal husbandry than the average person.

Copyeditors also use multiple resources like style guides, dictionaries, reference books, encyclopedias and websites.

In book and magazine publishing, they’ll also query the writer and/or editor on story issues that need to be changed or addressed. They also have the power to make suggestions to content and to do light rewriting.

What Copy Editors Do:

  • correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage and syntax
  • maintain consistent language style usage  (Is it written in US English or UK English?)
  • double check foreign words and phrases, idioms, clichés
  • correct inconsistencies in overall content
  • develop a style guide

Can You Learn To Copyedit?

You bet you can. If you look at proofreading as the starting point of editing, doesn’t it make sense for proofreaders to progress to copyediting? That’s why I created my course, High-Level Proofreading And Copyediting Pro, to teach you the proofreading and copyediting skills that clients expect.

Do you see how you can build on proofreading skills? In fact, proofreaders and copyeditors even use the same editorial resources. The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Book are two of the most heavily referenced style guides.

Some people consider copyediting to be like “high-end proofreading.” I think that’s a fair statement, and that’s how I approach my projects.

While many copyeditors hold English degrees, not all do. Just like proofreading, it’s a skill that doesn’t require a specific certificate. However, you do need more training and experience with language.


If you want to learn how YOU can start doing editorial work, I have a FREE masterclass on proofreading, copyediting, and marketing.

Click here to register now!

Why You Need To Learn Copyediting

Not only do you add a hugely valuable skill to your knowledge base, but you also gain an advantage over other proofreaders. People will be more inclined to hire you because of your pumped-up skill set. Not only do you bring more to the table, but you also leave a positive impression on clients that can lead to more work and referrals.

In today’s tech-savvy age and with the proliferation of online content, start-ups, and digital entrepreneurs, there are many ways for you to make money working online or in-house.

Some content you’ll be able to apply your superstar proofreading/copyediting skills to are:

  1. books/ebooks
  2. white papers
  3. websites
  4. reports
  5. research papers
  6. marketing materials
  7. social media content


Now you know the differences and similarities between proofreading and copyediting. It’s essential for today’s proofreader to know some copyediting techniques if you truly want to do kick-ass work and attract clients. And why wouldn’t you want to learn another skill? My motto is: Do more so you can be more.

Make clients so happy with your wide range of skills they’ll come back to you with more work. Maybe they’ll even refer you to friends.

I’m looking forward to sharing more proofreading and copyediting tips with you, so you can crush it out there.

Is there anything specific you’re interested in learning about proofreading or copyediting? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Differences Between Proofreading and Copyediting”

  1. Hi Phon, as someone that has no previous experience in this field, would you say developing copyediting skills will also allow me to cover the groud work required for proofreading? Or would I still need to circle back and consider stand-alone proofreading courses?


    1. Hi Luciana. Great question! While copyediting and proofreading share some of the same tasks, it is still important to be trained in proofreading. That is because there are specific tasks just for proofreaders to perform. Also, if you work for a client who only wants proofreading, you want to know how to stick to the scope of your services.

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Get your FREE eBook! Winning With Words: The Ultimate Guide To Freelance Proofreading And Copyediting

The ultimate guide to freelance proofreading and copyediting

Get your FREE eBook! Winning With Words: The Ultimate Guide To Freelance Proofreading And Copyediting