Copy Editing Versus Proofreading (And Why You Want Both)

Posted February 6, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 2 Comments


You have an inflated opinion of your own writing

I’m just going to let that one float for a while. Most people seem to think they can skip copy editing and go straight for proofreading because they’ve been over their manuscript so many times already they’ve edited the crap out. And they’re wrong.

Proofreading is a final check to make sure everything’s as error free as possible.

Copy editing makes you sound as brilliant as you think you are. It clears out extra words bogging down your writing, cleans up inconsistencies, and clarifies sentences on a grammatical and logical level. You’re not going to catch those on your own.

You may have an error-free manuscript if you skip copy editing, but free of mistakes doesn’t mean quality writing

Grammar ain’t everything. Here are examples of the difference between proofreading and copy editing.

The thoughts in here head raced.

Proofreading: The thoughts in her head raced.

Fixed the typo.

Copy editing: Her thoughts raced.

“In her head” is redundant. Where else are your thoughts? This is an excellent example of overwriting. Thoughts are naturally in a person’s head. Trust that your readers are smart enough to figure that out. And eliminating the extra words tightens the sentence.

There was something that weren’t quit right about the situation.

Proofreading: There was something that wasn’t quite right about the situation.

Fixed the typo and subject-verb disagreement. Something is singular, not plural.

Copy editing: Something wasn’t quite right about the situation.

The “there + be” construction bloats your writing. It also distances the reader. I always rewrite the sentence if possible.

He laid there for awhile, and then he got up and hit him.

Proofreading: He lay there for a while, and then he got up and hit him.

We’ve got a lie/lay (or rather, lay/laid) issue. “Awhile” needs to be two words because it follows “for.” I’d also point out (but not change) the confusing pronoun use.

Copy editing: He lay there for a while before getting up to hit Bob.

Fixed all the issues above, plus rewrote the sentence to make it flow better. The “and then,” especially in fiction writing, often indicates telling.

Proofreading cleans up final mistakes

At the proofreading stage, your book should’ve already been edited and be as free of mistakes as possible. A proofreader isn’t a substitute for a copy editor. Grammatical sentences can still be shitty.

Copy editing makes your writing truly shine

It’s where everything gets cleaned up and polished. It breaks down your sentences and puts them back together in the most clear and concise way possible, while still maintaining the author’s style.

A good copy edit reads like no changes were made—because the copy editor is able to understand and translate what the author wanted to say. A proofreader comes in afterward and sweeps away the dust.

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2 responses to “Copy Editing Versus Proofreading (And Why You Want Both)

  1. Yes! I see overwriting all the time. I think it’s human nature to clarify to the extreme because we’re afraid readers will miss a huge plot point or misunderstand us. Unfortunately, it nearly always comes across as dumbing down your writing. And no one likes to be talked down to. That’s why it’s so hard to keep myself from pointing out those mistakes when a writer doesn’t want that level of editing!

    • I think lack of faith in ourselves as writers often leads to overwriting too. Or just wanting to write something awesome and getting wrapped up in trying to sound smart. Our readers are usually smarter than we give them credit for. 🙂

      My fingers itch to fix everything too. But alas, I cannot always.

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