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My Document’s Done! Do I Need a Proofreader or an Editor?

Understanding the lingo of writing and editing professionals

Perhaps you’ve just finished an e-book or you are launching a new business. You want to be sure you are presenting a professional image; that merits the help of a professional in the writing & editing field.

So, you start looking for editors… of which there seem to be numerous kinds: copyeditor, content editor, structural editor, line editor. As you read the descriptions on several websites the definitions seem maybe inconsistent, and you’re still not sure which service your manuscript needs.

Okay, so you’ll hire an editor. They’ll know what to do. But it seems you still need a proofreader? Why an editor and a proofreader?

There are several phases of the editing process. These phases are often called levels of edit or editing passes. They move from a consideration of presentation of thought & organization to a careful (line-by-line) analysis of grammar & syntax. Some editors offer several services and some prefer to focus only on one or two levels.

Common misunderstandings about editing passes include confusion about line editing vs. copyediting and confusion about copyediting vs. proofreading:

Line editing and copyediting are sometimes considered to be the same process, and sometimes they are separately defined. Basically, at this level, editors have already considered the organization and logic of a document and they are now looking very closely at each sentence for consistency, clarity, syntax, and grammar.

Copyediting and proofreading are also sometimes confused. While both copyeditors and proofreaders are looking for grammatical errors, copyeditors are more at liberty to make changes to a text. A proofreader would not suggest wording changes unless a word seemed like a wrong choice missed by the copyeditor (i.e. a word that doesn’t make sense in the sentence). Proofreaders are looking for “surface” errors such as repeated words, spelling mistakes, or extra and missing spaces. They are also looking at formatting (bold headings, font changes, and paragraph indentations). A proofreader will correct grammar—but only if it is “incorrect” in the context of the document. Copyeditors will alter grammar for the sake of refinement and the flow of writing. Proofreaders take the document from copyeditors and read through it a final time before publication.

If you are unsure whether you need an editor or a proofreader, ask for an evaluation of your manuscript. These levels of editing often vary according to whether your document is a book or a business report. (In my own practice, I often refer to two levels of editing: developmental editing (organization and thought process) and mechanical/surface editing (copyediting & proofreading). 

My  rule of thumb for book authors is a recommendation of working with a minimum of an editor and a proofreader (preferably different people). For business documents, depending on complexity, I recommend a minimum of two proofreaders who are also willing to do a bit of light editing. 

Contact me to discuss how this general outline might apply to your specific project.

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