What is the difference between copy editing and proofreading?


Copy Editing

This type of editing is used for when your document has gone through its first write.  You’ve put a first draft together and constructed most of it.  Now you need to review what you’ve written to improve the flow, quality and readability of your work.

Below is a useful list provided by SfEP of what copy editing is and is not. 

Copy editing is:

  • working on raw or draft text
  • spelling, punctuation and grammar errors
  • changes for flow, tone and intended readership
  • applying your house style or ensuring consistency in spellings, capital letters, date format, numbers, units
  • marking up the structure for the designer (headings, boxed text, quotes, tables, etc.)
  • listing items that need permission to use
  • formatting references and citations into chosen style
  • numbering tables, figures and illustrations; checking content against text and captions
  • querying obvious factual inaccuracy
  • flagging potential legal issues
  • formatting index consistently

Copy editing is NOT:

  • working on text in final layout
  • substantial rewriting
  • development of or planning the content
    preparing a comprehensive style guide for you or your organisation
  • designing the layout or doing the typesetting
  • getting permissions (e.g. for quoted extracts)
  • checking accuracy of references and citations
  • producing artwork or graphics for you
  • research or fact-checking
  • solving defamatory or other legal issues
  • compiling index or checking page numbers


This type of editing is used for when your document is at its final stage.  You’ve made all the big changes, done all the significant rewrites.  Now all you need is a final check for minor mistakes and inconsitences, and for correct layout.

Below is a useful list provided by SfEP of what proofreading is and is not. 

Proofreading is:

  • working on edited text in final layout
  • essential errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • minor changes for sense
  • all page elements consistent, placed correctly and style decisions applied
  • tables and illustrations consecutively numbered and placed correctly
  • references and citations correctly formatted
  • index formatted consistently

Proofreading is NOT:

  • working on raw or draft text
  • changing your mind on spelling preferences
  • rephrasing to flow or sound better
  • reordering or changing structure or layout
  • adding in new text or illustrations
  • accuracy of references and citations
  • checking index page numbers