News room: Copy edit or Proofread? How to tell which edit you need

Copy edit or Proofread? How to tell which edit you need by Sarah Juckes

Looking for an editor, but not sure what kind of edit your book needs? In this edition of CN’s Expert Tips, editor Sarah Nisbet explains the key differences between copy editing and proofreading, so you can choose the right one for your book.

Hurrah! You’ve finally finished writing your novel. It’s been edited, and edited (and edited); in fact, you are no longer able to read it objectively and you are almost sick of the sight of it!

What next? It’s tempting to send your book out into the world as soon as possible – but it’s really important to make sure that all your hard work delivers in exactly the way that you intended. And that’s where copy editors and proofreaders come in.

Copy editor or proofreader?

It can be difficult to know which one you need (especially when some of us offer both services). In fact, in general, it’s ideal to use both if you can manage it: a copy editor will give your manuscript a thorough tidy-up and, after that, a proofreader will refine and polish it.

Copy editing: The tidy-up

A copy-editor will check your manuscript – as a whole and sentence by sentence – to ensure that the language used is clear and coherent (without changing your ‘voice’); make sure that layout, spelling and punctuation style are consistent throughout the book; pick up on any holes or inconsistencies in the plot line, or in the names/appearance of characters (you’d be surprised at how easily these can creep in!); and flag up potential legal issues, such as libel or breach of copyright (although authors are ultimately responsible for these matters).

Proofreading: The polish

A proofreader will use their skill and judgement to make as few changes as possible to the final draft, but will meticulously read your text, word by word, in order to eradicate those tiny mistakes that can make all the difference to your readers’ experience of the book – not just typos, but grammar, punctuation, spelling, style and consistency niggles, or last-minute issues with layout and format.

Want to know more? The tasks involved in copy editing and proofreading sometimes overlap, but they are distinct roles, each with their own essential part to play in getting a book ready for publication. This blog post only touches on the ways in which copy editors and proofreaders can help, but if you would like to know more about what we do and where to find us, follow these links:

Sarah Nisbet is the owner of Inkshed Editorial and a Professional Member of the SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders). Sarah loves copy-editing and proofreading, but when she has free time she spends it with family and friends. She enjoys reading; walking her dog – on the beach or in the countryside; listening to music; and watching films.

Further reading on editing:

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Written by
Sarah Juckes
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Expert tips and Editing