Copy editing vs proofreading. Which is which? Which one should you use in your specific project? Let’s take a look!
Copy Editing Vs Proofreading in a Nutshell
Proofreading is quite simple. The basic idea is to try to find accidental errors and omissions which can be hampering the work.
Consider the following extract:
Three-act structure is in the traditional form of storytelling in fiction film. It is very popular and indeed the vast majority of films will use this layout. Interestingly, even will documentaries will use this traditional structure in one way or another too.
A proofreading process would change the extract and leave it looking like this:
Three-act structure is in the traditional form of storytelling in fiction film. It is very popular and indeed the vast majority of films will use this layout. Interestingly, even will documentaries will use this traditional structure in one way or another
The idea of proofreading is to give the text a read-through and correct things such as incorrect spelling or punctuation as well as grammar mistakes. Typos in general are also corrected.
Evidently, proofreading is essential many creative processes. Consider a book that is ready to be published. Surely a very capable proofreader must give it a once-over to try to find out the little errors that may have been overlooked.
What about copy editing? Is it the same as proofreading? Is it different? The short answer is yes, it’s a different thing. Copy editing tries to go beyond proofreading and tries to read more deeply. Is the text fine as it is or does it need editing?
Consider the following extract:
Theme is what a script or story is really about. For instance, let’s take a look at the theme a film such as ‘Scarface’ (1983) could be described as the corruptive nature of power and excess, or something along those lines or something like that. The very theme will usually dictate a particular dramatic movement for the film. In the case of ‘Scarface’ that dramatic movement is towards the annihilation of the character and the annihilation of the story world, because such is the natural conclusion of the corruptive nature of power and excess.
A copy editing process would change the extract and leave it looking like this:
Theme is what a script or story is really about. For instance, let’s take a look at The theme of a film such as ‘Scarface’ (1983) could be described as the corruptive nature of power and excess, or something along those lines or something like that. The very theme will usually dictate a particular dramatic movement for the film. In the case of ‘Scarface’ that dramatic movement is towards the annihilation of the character and the
annihilation of the story world, because such is the natural conclusion of the corruptive nature of power and excess.
Copy editing tries to make a written piece the best it can be. As such, it’s not only concerned with the more immediate fixes such as typos. It tries to delve deeper in the text.
A copy editor would begin by trying to understand the text. What is it about? What’s the purpose of the piece? Does the evolution of the piece and the writing fulfill what it set out to do? Apart from this, there’s an emphasis in style. This examination goes much further than a proofreader would. Instead of concentrating solely on avoiding typos and mistakes, it tries to ask more questions of the text. Is this the correct style? Is the style consistent throughout the piece or is it irregular?
Copy editing can be used in a variety of situations. Consider, for one, the example we previously mentioned about a book that’s about to be published. A proofreader would attempt a superficial, even cosmetic, correction. A copy editor, on the other hand, would go deep into the book and suggest big changes: tone, style etc. It would attempt to make a book hit harder on target, avoiding wordiness and flabby sections.
Copy Editing Vs Proofreading… But What About Ghostwriting?
There’s evidently a progression, of sorts, between proofreading and copy editing. Proofreading is the most basic form of correction. Copy editing is a step above proofreading, in that it’s much more intricate and elaborate. What about the next step beyond copy editing?
We mentioned that copy editing goes deep into a text, trying to find out if the text is all it can be. This process can be quite complex and may take us into the realm of the ghostwriter.
Consider the following extract:
The story of my life is very strange. All I ever wanted to do was play soccer and that’s the essence of my early life. It’s very strange that I did get to play soccer but that the game brought to new avenues in life and new adventures and eventually my life was something completely different from what I thought it was going to be because the truth is that it changed dramatically and almost imperceptibly for me. Like I said I played soccer professionally for several years but then became a police detective (also a passion) and the two are completely linked one to the other and this memoir is the story of how this came to be.
A copy editor could change the extract and leave it looking like this:
There is an inarguable strangeness to the story of my life. All I ever wanted was to play soccer and yet I ended up becoming a police detective. This memoir is the story of these two passions and how one imperceptibly led to the other.
Isn’t this ghostwriting though? The passage has the information of the unpolished version. It’s something different though: it’s not as wordy and is very pithy.
A ghostwriter is essentially a writer who remains in the background. Imagine that the person who wrote the unpolished passage is indeed a former police detective who wishes to pen a memoir. A ghostwriter would assist such a person and create the text itself.
The detective could provide rough drafts which the ghostwriter would rework into an improved finished piece of writing. Alternatively, the ghostwriter could work using tapes of conversations with the detective of the memoir.
At the end, a ghostwriter is usually left unnamed. There are other situations when the ghostwriter is named in a less obtrusive way; for instance: “Written by Police Detective and Ghostwriter”.
Talking to the Pros: Levels of Detail
We’ve suggested in this article that there’s an evident distinction between proofreading and copy editing. Eventually, copy editing may very well become a form of ghostwriting, depending on the level of changes and recommendations the writing pro has to offer.
Before becoming too mixed up in definitions though, we need to be aware of one thing: The best way to get the type of read-through and work we want is to talk to the writing pro that will be working on our piece.
Tell the writer what you want! Do you want the writer to proofread the text only? Would you prefer that the writer do copy editing? If so, what’s the degree of editing that you’re expecting? Do you want a relatively simple editing or are you expecting the writer to actively retool your work and serve as a ghostwriter of sorts?
Details and Nuance in Copy Editing Vs Proofreading
With this in mind let’s try to understand exactly what it is we can ask of a writer in a copy editing or proofreading process. What’s the best type of writing? Should we attempt to imitate it?
We’ve stated in other articles in this blog that there’s a preeminent writing style in copy. Such a writing style could be described as a ‘lean style’ which includes the following characteristics:
No excess in words or adjectives.
Shorter sentences instead of longer ones.
No excessively long paragraphs.
This sort of writing style is very popular in copywriting today. It’s also used to create other forms of content. Books, be they fiction or non-fiction, usually attempt to create a sort of lean tone and voice, without excessive wordiness. This sort of lean approach to writing has also influenced screenwriting.
There are many reasons why this is. A powerful influence in American writing has been ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White. This book posits some basic tips for good writing such as:
Use the active voice.
Put statements in the positive form.
Use definite, specific, concrete language.
Omit needless words.
Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
Do not overwrite.
Do not explain too much.
Avoid fancy words.
Do not overstate.
Use figures of speech sparingly.
Prefer the standard to the offbeat.
When hiring writer to take on a copy editing or proofreading process, it’s generally useful to use a lean style such as the one mentioned above. This is a recognizable style that the reading public is generally aware of. It’s also quite simple to read and comprehend.
Now then, this doesn’t mean that this is the only style to use. If you have a distinct style which you wish to preserve, then by all means do it. Talk to the writing pro who will be proofreading and editing and let them know this is the way you write and that you wish to strengthen such a voice.
The Bunny Studio Way
Bunny Studio is a first rate online platform to acquire all sorts of talent. In the case of copy editing vs proofreading, you can absolutely find a writing pro ready to tackle your project.
Alternatively, you can also hire a writer or copywriter who will ghostwrite your content. You may provide such a pro with a rough outline, draft, voice recording, you name it!