What proofreading is

While the skill-sets required for proofreading and for copy-editing are similar, the two jobs are significantly different in practice.


Proofreading is the process of checking for errors in a completed document that has been typeset and laid out in accordance with a design specification.

There is rarely room in the proofreader’s brief to adjust awkward or clunky phrasing, or to make decisions about design or layout that do not involve the correction of errors.

The proofreader is checking for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and errors in layout (such as widows and orphans) or design (such as a heading being presented in the wrong style, or text that should have been bolded or italicised being left in ordinary type) that result from errors in implementing the design specification, or errors that might have been missed or made by the copy-editor.

This stage in the creation of a publication takes place near the end of the publication process, before the document being published is sent to the printers. Therefore, the proofreader is the final point of quality control on a publication.

  • This definition of a proofreader’s job applies mainly to work done for an actual publishing company; for private clients, such as authors wishing to have their manuscripts checked and cleaned up before they are sent off to potential publishers, the proofreader’s job may be limited to checking for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you are such a client, this will need to be discussed with me before the project agreement is signed.


Copy-editing is the process of taking a raw manuscript and ‘tidying it up’.

The copy-editor will go through the text checking for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, making decisions about words with variant spellings (such as -ise/-ize spelling – for example prioritise/prioritize, or analyse/analyze), hyphenation (e.g. well known/well-known, rank and file/rank-and-file) and so on.

They will also adjust poor or awkward (but nonetheless grammatically acceptable) phrasing to ensure a smoother flow of words. Depending on the publication, they may also be required to check the correctness of facts and calculations, or the consistency of an argument (in an academic book) or of the plot or a character’s description (in a work of fiction).

Furthermore, the copy-editor will decide which headings are at which levels (for example, chapter heading, main heading, sub-heading, sub-sub-heading and so on), so that the typesetter can apply the correct part of the design specification to them.

Since this process takes place at the start of the publication process, the copy-editor is the first point of quality control.

      • I have not yet undertaken any training in copy-editing; I am therefore unable to offer a full copy-editing service at this time. If the client wishes me to do anything that goes beyond the remit of a strict proofreading job (see terms and conditions), this will need to be discussed before the project agreement is signed. The project fee for such a job will also be higher than usual, given the extra time that the additional tasks will take.


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