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How are Editing, Copy Editing & Proofreading Different? - Enago

How are Editing, Copy Editing & Proofreading Different?


The terms editing, copy editing services & proofreading sound really familiar, but oddly, you are often not sure how they are exactly different from one another. It is no surprise that they frequently get used interchangeably – albeit incorrectly. As an author (particularly a new author), you must be able to distinguish between various types of editing to ensure that you get what you believe you signed up for.

The great news is you are at the perfect place that will answer relevant questions such as “What is copy editing and academic editing? Or “Should I go for copy editing services or just proofreading will be sufficient?” This article is not of those ‘editing vs. copy editing’ articles that intend to show one is better than the other. The purpose of this write-up is to give you a crystal clear understanding of how editing, copy editing & proofreading differ from each other & how they can be vital to your success.

Let’s begin our journey with copy editing. This discipline involves examining the manuscript/paper/essay for syntax, sentence structure & grammar. Copy editors, while checking for grammar, go deeper than what meets the eye. They have to make a distinction between what’s correct grammatically and what is suitable for the targeted audience. For instance, the expression, “Sure thing” is grammatically correct, but it should not be used in formal writing. Instead, “Certainly” would be preferable. They also look into the regional differences; for instance, British English vs. American English.

Moreover, copy editors ensure that there is zero factually erroneous data. This element is indispensible when it comes to non-fiction writing such as memoirs, literary journalism, stem cell research, historical pieces, etc. The copy editor has to fact-check your writing thoroughly and see to it that all the references, dates, names, et al., are accurate. The copy editor also ensures that your writing does not defame or malign anyone as that can potentially attract legal liability. Besides, the copy editor rewrites text, if required. For instance, they can resolve the transition problems, jargon, verbosity, and also make sure that your writing style is in sync with the specific journal’s requirements.

It’s evident that a copy editor does a lot more than checking for grammar. It is important not to think copy editing & proofreading are similar just because grammar is checked by the specialists of both disciplines. As explained earlier, the copy editor looks at grammar in a more nuanced way, whereas a proofreader checks grammar for accuracy in a conventional manner. A proofreader is not expected to identify that “Sure Thing” should be replaced with “Certainly” – the copy editor needs to make that distinction. He has to be certain that all the elements of your writing are coherent & complete.

Proofreading comes into play after your writing has been properly edited, designed, & structured. This is when the proofreader takes over to find & rectify all the typographical errors. A proofreader never recommends sweeping alterations to the written text; their prime focus is to find those minor spelling mistakes & formatting glitches that everyone had missed till now. A proofreader is the final link between your manuscript and its publication. Though their job may appear to be not so difficult or highly-skilled, they are nonetheless crucial to make your work publication-ready.

Now that you know how copy editing and proofreading are different from each other, you will not make the common mistake of using those two terms interchangeably. Also, you recognize that though copy editing is likely to require a higher level of expertise, proofreading is equally paramount to your success.

We can now move our focus to editing/academic editing & how it’s subtly different from copy editing. Editing makes changes to the text, which is also what a copy editor does, but there are specific differences. For example, the editor revises, reorganizes & repositions to make your writing concise & engaging. It’s a collaborative process – the editor works together with the writer. The editor must be proactive in recommending changes that will enhance the quality of your paper holistically – especially when it comes to expression & language use. Once your writing is edited, it should be crisp, and your expression must be easy to grasp for the intended audience. One of the most essential additions a great editor will make to your work is that when anyone reads your writing, they cannot tell if English is your second language – when it actually is.

If one were to put in simple words, editing, and copy editing genuinely elevate the overall quality of your writing. Proofreading provides the final touches to make it perfect and ready to be published. When these three elements work cohesively, your writing undeniably becomes superior.

Good luck with writing & hope you have prolific publishing success.

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