Copyediting and proofreading

23 Feb

As promised a couple of posts ago, I will now attempt to distinguish between copyediting and proofreading.

I have used New Hart’s rules: the handbook of style for writers and editors, which is one of the reference tools recommended by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, in setting down these distinctions: any errors, however, are my own.

Copyediting means making sure the copy conforms, first, externally, to accepted forms of word use, spelling, grammar, etc., and any style guide the client might use, and second, internally to itself. The second point is very important and involves checking the author has spelled names the same throughout, referred to people in the same way, arranged rooms described in a house in the same way each time they’re mentioned, etc. That’s a bit like being a continuity person for a film or TV programme, and when there’s a lot of that, it’s called a substantive edit. For example, in a novel I’m copyediting at the moment, I’ve had to pop backwards in the text and insert suggestions for something being mentioned at one point, so it can be referred to later on.

So, copyediting is actually what people usually think of when they think “Liz is running a proofreading business.”

But proofreading is something altogether different. This involves checking a text is ready to be published. Making sure the text starts on the right page, that paragraphs don’t have a trailing word on the next page, that diagrams or tables aren’t split, that the right chapter heading appears at the top of each page. Really, this is making sure the proofs, the final copy before publication, can be published as they are.

Sometimes I do both. I’m working on a non-fiction book at the moment, where I’ve already gone through a copyedit and made sure all the sentences work OK and all the capitalization is consistent. I’m awaiting a copy of the PDF, which I’ll check over for picture captions being correct and the text appearing nicely on the page.

Of course, there’s always an opportunity for people to mix up copyediting and copy-writing. Hopefully, this piece is spelled and punctuated correctly; I haven’t written it half with copyediting and half with copy-editing and I’ve included a citation for the book I’ve referred to. So I’ve copyedited it. The actual writing of the piece in the first place? That’s copy-writing.

New Hart’s rules: the handbook of style for writers and editors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Errors, Reference materials, Skillset, What Do I Do?


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9 responses to “Copyediting and proofreading

  1. Gill Rose

    February 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I see you don’t use the Harvard system!


  2. libroediting

    February 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I was advised to use the “cite” feature in my coding of the piece, by a web developer – and that’s how it came out in the reference at the bottom. The only way I’d have been able to make it nice and Harvard-y would have been to use emphasis rather than “cite”. I’ll see if opinon is against that and amend as necessary…


  3. Sadie Koen

    April 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    I do not have a webste, but would very much appreciate some help in becoming a copy typist. i have a laptop with internet, email and printer.I love typing and i did dictaphone typing years ago. Unfortunately i dont have the tools for dictaphone typing. I am sick and tired of scams. I need a real job, but no-one wants to help me. i have adobe reader and pdf, if some-one can show me hoe to use them.
    I’m looking forward to hearing from you.




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