Copyediting & Proofreading: Similar Yet Different

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When it comes to the many editorial services Bookmasters offers, most authors have a fairly clear idea of what “indexing,” “accuracy checking,” and “securing permissions” entail. But authors sometimes stumble over the differences between “copyediting” and “proofreading.”

“After all, it’s the same thing,” they’ll say. “In both instances, you read my book and point out and fix any errors. Right?”

Wrong, but the confusion is understandable (although a bit frustrating at times). On the surface, it may seem as if the processes are identical because, yes, each professional is reviewing and correcting the words on a page in some way. But that’s where the similarities end.

Let’s take each process individually and compare what the two offer (and don’t offer):

Copyediting is the review and correction of an author’s originally written manuscript. The copyeditor takes the author’s electronic manuscript shutterstock_102490091(typically in Microsoft Word) and cleans the text, addressing issues including spelling, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization. The editor is also making sure the manuscript is internally consistent (Stephen isn’t “Steven” elsewhere in the book) and following the style points defined at the start. We use the Chicago Manual of Style at Bookmasters, although we are also versed in AP Style, APA, AMA, and a host of others as required by the author. Depending on the roughness of the original manuscript, the copyeditor could also be tasked to correct issues of sentence structure, storyline continuity, and improving the clarity of the author’s message.

The copyediting process can be as simple as fixing a few grammatical points and as complex as a complete rewrite of the entire manuscript.

Once the manuscript is edited, reviewed and approved by the author, and laid out in the book’s final pages, the proofreading can begin. At this stage, the book’s text is expected to be finalized by the author, so the proofreader is primarily concerned with how the pages look and read on a more “global basis.” The proofreader is, of course, reviewing for grammatical issues that may have been missed during the copyediting, but they are not turning so critical an eye to the text. Their primary focus is on the book’s overall presentation: Are the page elements throughout the book correct and in place? (page numbers, running heads, chapter heads, footnotes, etc.) Are the margins the correct width, and do the pages bottom out? (Aligned at the bottom on a page spread.) Are there bad breaks, ladders, and widows/orphans to be cleaned up and adjusted? Are the fonts in place? Are the art and captions correct? Did any text fall out or not get set?

As you can see, the text of the book is one very small part of the proofreader’s responsibilities, so it’s better to have someone focus solely on that earlier in the process.

It may help to visualize the copyediting and proofreading processes as two sides of the same coin. Both contribute to the overall success of the book, but their fields of focus and areas of expertise are very different indeed!

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