What Copy Editors Do

If you’ve ever wondered what copy editors do and are confused by how copyediting is different from proofreading, you’re not alone. The lines between proofreading and copyediting are often blurred, and the two can be confused with one another. 

In the past, before writers and publishers used the Internet and eBooks to get their content out into the world, publishing was solely focused on printed material. Back then, the task of a proofreader was clearly focused on catching and fixing spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Today, a proofreader’s responsibilities are similar to that of a copy editor’s, but there are clear differences. 

So what is copyediting? In this post, we’ll explain what it is, the differences between proofreading and copyediting, what copy editors do and the content they work on. You’ll also learn how to go beyond proofreading.

What Copy Editors do

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting is a more in-depth, higher-level process than proofreading. It involves checking grammar, punctuation and spelling, but is a much thorough review and edit. Copyediting is about improving the flow, readability and structure of content. It’s about walking that fine line between correcting all the grammar, spelling and language errors, while maintaining a writer’s style and voice, and clearly and effectively communicating a company’s message.

Differences Between Proofreading and Copyediting

Both proofreading and copyediting involve a close and careful review of content in all of its formats. They are often confused or thought to be the same.

Proofreading is fixing content before it is published. As a proofreader, your responsibility would be to do some light editing by correcting punctuation, looking for inconsistent or incorrect spelling, and fixing grammar and issues with language and word usage. 

You would also check for inconsistencies in the content and layout of information, such as awkward page breaks, overlapping content or discrepancies in the content. Proofreading is quality assurance before content is released to readers, followers and customers. It’s about catching all the smaller things that slipped through previous stages of editing, and following the company’s, writer’s or copy editor’s style guide.

Copyediting is the stage in which content is inspected with a finer-tooth comb, and edited to improve readability. What copy editors do is focus on both the smaller details and the content as a whole. They ensure that text flows well from one sentence to the next, and that the writing style is consistent. Copy editors also maintain the writer’s style or a company’s voice.

What Copy Editors Do

Along with correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax, copy editors also work as fact checkers, do a substantial amount of research and often become experts in their field! They maintain factual accuracy by looking at dates, events, names and statistics, and making sure all is correct and true. 

Copy editors create style guides and update in-house style rules to ensure there is consistency throughout printed and online content. In copyediting, just like every stage of the editing process, consistency is everything! These language experts check for inconsistency within articles, reports, manuals and books.

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What Types of Content Can Copy Editors Work On?

Copy editors work for various industries and for publishing houses, corporations and small businesses. They also work as freelancers. When it comes to the content that copy editors can work on, the list is endless! 

They can work on blog posts, websites, newspapers, manuals, guidebooks, scholarly books, textbooks and journals. Copy editors can also work on novels, eBooks, coffee table books, cookbooks, social media content, and trade and consumer publications such as newsletters and magazines. The content you work on depends highly on your interests, expertise and skill set.

How Can You Become a Copy Editor?

To become a good copy editor, it’s important to have an attention to detail and the ability to clearly communicate. It is not necessary to have an English degree or publishing certificate to work as a copy editor. Building your experience and getting quality training in language and copyediting is a huge step in the right direction. 

Copy editors rely heavily on a variety of editorial resources to help them with grammar, style and language usage. They also use style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style, and look at reference books and websites to deliver the best quality of work.

A great copy editor corrects language and grammar while respecting the content and message of the copy. You never want to pick apart the copy to the point where it’s drastically different from the original text. Doing that can lose the feeling and message that the writer intended for their creative work.

Along with all the technical skills you need, it is essential to be flexible and adaptable as a copy editor. It’s important to build relationships with writers, editorial and marketing departments, and clients to ensure that needs are being met. Building those relationships will help you to succeed, to create trust, and to maintain and gain new clients.


I hope you have a clear understanding of what copy editors do now. By building relationships and gaining professional-level training and experience, you will set yourself apart from other proofreaders and copy editors. Copyediting can grow your publishing and editorial career, and build your knowledge and client base with new and exciting jobs!

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The ultimate guide to freelance proofreading and copyediting

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