What is Copy Editing and Is It Different From Proofreading?

Velina Nenova
Velina Nenova

Updated · Oct 16, 2022


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If you’re an author or have anything to do with writing and publishing, you probably heard the term copy editing. Yes, it’s slightly different than standard editing and a far cry from proofreading.

If you’re confused, keep reading to learn what copy editing is, the professional skills it requires, and the industries that benefit from it.

What Is Copy Editing?

Definitions range, but all imply that it’s the process where editors ensure that text is correct in terms of spelling, grammar, slang, semantics, formatting, terminology, and punctuation. This editorial function also makes sure that the writer’s ideas are clear and comprehendible.

This type of editing polishes up written content. Today, in addition to working on print, copy editors are heavily relied upon for online content in various industries. 

With the development of the internet, copy editing has become more popular. People use these skills to improve their blogs and product descriptions and increase sales, especially regarding SEO writing.

Additionally, the presence of copy editors ensures quality and credibility of the written online content.

What Do Copy Editors Do?

Any copy edit definition will reflect that copy editors work on a variety of content. Even though copy editing can be fulfilling and interesting, it still requires excellent attention to detail and grammatical skills that come with experience.

Individuals should also have a deadline-oriented mindset.  

Additionally, they work in various industries, meaning they should remain familiar with the latest trends in their niche.

Copy editors also work on larger projects and oversee the content production process.

And what does copy editing mean when it comes to daily tasks? Some of the regular duties include:

  • Revising sentences or paragraphs to improve accuracy and clarity
  • Guiding people through the text by moving sections
  • Engaging readers by repositioning prose
  • Simplifying unusual terms and ambiguous language
  • Content formatting
  • In-house or established style guide revisions
  • Meeting deadlines

The next stage is proofreading once the copyright editor completes the text. The proofreader checks for any remaining mistakes overlooked in the previous step.  Proofreading is usually done separately, not by the copy editor who already went through the document.

After proofreading, the text is ready for publishing or returned to the writer for additional input.   

If you have ever wondered what does a copy editor do, you’ll find the answer below.

Following The Style Guide While Editing

A style guide is a set of writing, editing, and text formatting standards. There are several industry style guides that copy editors follow:

  • AMA Manual of Style
  • AP Stylebook
  • APA Style
  • California Style Manual
  • The Cambridge Guide to English Usage
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, etc

Besides these standard guides, there could be specific in-house instructions aimed at improving the brand’s voice. The copy editor should follow style instructions during the editing process.

Copy Restructuring For Better Flow

Based on the copy editing definition, editors make multiple read-throughs to understand the positioning, context, and key points. Then, they will make necessary changes to improve readability and enhance certain sections.

If necessary, the copy editor will also:

  • Restructure the text
  • Change headings
  • Move paragraphs
  • Check the content length
  • Sharpen the content
  • Ensure there's a call to action, etc.

Fact-Checking Numerical Data

Some editors also handle fact-checking. This involves verifying numerical information to ensure accuracy. Correct dates, statistics, and other data help build trust with a reader, and sometimes it’s up to the copy editor to ensure accuracy. 

However, they usually stop there and won’t check other information.

Working With Writers

To copy edit, by definition, includes working with writers and providing feedback. With the right approach, copy editors help writers improve their research and writing style. Additionally, as they recommend significant changes, they may return the written piece to the author for corrections.

Skills Of A Good Copy Editor

Ingrained in the copy edit definition and the work process, copy editors should have specific skills. These include:

  • In-depth knowledge of English
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Ability to connect with the audience
  • Great attention to detail
  • Organized mindset
  • Good understanding of style guides
  • Balanced editing, keeping to the style and tone
  • Good communication

These skills apply to multiple industries, both on and offline. Specific niches that require these skills include publishing, ecommerce, education, technology, and many others. Copy editing also includes working with business documents or works of academia. 

Copy Editing vs. Proofreading

The difference between copy editing and proofreading is that the proofreader works with an almost finished copy to prove its readiness. 

Contrary to the copy editor, who handles major changes in the text, proofreaders deal with minor ones. Proofreaders may also use a grammar checker. Copy editing and proofreading are separate tasks. Still, the proofreader is the one to confirm that the text is ready for publishing.

Proofreading is also used across industries whenever there’s a need to check the text for typographical errors.

People often use the terms proofreading and copy editing interchangeably. However, they’re not the same. The term copy editing is more suitable when there’s a raw text that requires editing for clarity, flow, numerical facts, brand’s voice, and other similiar reviews.

To the contrary, proofreading applies once the text is nearly complete.  

Wrap Up 

The copy editing skill is in high demand. It is present everywhere, including magazine printing and the ever-growing online publishing industry. However, this form of editing requires specific skills.

For example, copy editors must have great attention to detail, excellent communication, and be ready to follow industry-specific style guides. It involves restructuring text, flow revisions, punctuation, correctness, length, etc. 

Some editors will handle fact-checking and proofreading, while proofreading tends to be carried out by another. In general, copy editing and proofreading are the final two stages of preparing text for publishing.


What is the difference between editing and copy editing?

The main difference is in the editor’s focus. In content editing, the person focuses on the bigger picture and the meaning of the content. When it comes to copy editing, the person deals more with the technical quality of the text.

What is copy editing vs. proofreading?

The definition of copy editing highlights the fact that it comes before the proofreading phase. It also serves to check the content for significant mistakes in punctuation, spelling, grammar, continuity, etc. On the other hand, proofreading involves removing minor errors from the text and polishing it up for publishing.

What exactly does a copy editor do?

The copy editor has many tasks. For example, they’re responsible for content restructuring, headings, paragraph length, sharpening the content, ensuring numerical accuracy, readability, flow, and more. They also work with writers and provide feedback.

What is considered copy editing?

It’s the stage in the publishing process where text receives significant improvements. Copy editors check text for readability, writing style consistency, and flow. It’s also the moment when the editor improves the brand’s voice and deals with grammar, slang, and formatting issues.

And now you know what copy editing is.


Velina Nenova

Velina Nenova

Velina describes herself as passionate media savvy and a versatile individual with numerous different interests, most a result of her Media & Communications BA. She has also developed a keen interest in Digital Marketing and Advertising. Her never-ending desire to constantly learn new things and enrich herself and her ultimate dream to go around the globe before 45 are her driving forces.

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