Editing and copyediting are inherently similar as you can probably tell by the names. They are, however, slightly different but it is understandable and not at all surprising as to why they are often confused or shrugged off as simply being the same thing. In this article we hope to clarify the differences between the two to help you better differentiate them in future. But before we can look at the differences, we must look at what exactly they each are. What do editing and copyediting entail? Let’s start with defining copyediting.
The art of copyediting, sometimes written as two words – copy editor, is to check a document thoroughly for simple errors. Things like spelling, punctuation, capitalization, general grammatical errors and the correct tense of verbs would all be checked and the errors caught by a copyeditor. This process also involves checking the document for a multitude of other factors such as sentence structure, word choice, paragraph length and continuity in the overall content. They will search the document for all of this along with missed words and typos. Overall, a copyeditor will check the general language of the document and correct any errors they find, focusing more on the individual words than the content as a whole and, if needed, rewriting small sections to improve the clarity of a sentence.
Copyeditors will typically work using computer software such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Word Track Changes. This allows them to not only make notes of what they have corrected, but also to make small rewrites and have them tracked with a note attached as to why it was changed.
You may or may not have noticed that copyediting is in fact, rather similar to Proofreading. The main difference between the two is that while a copyeditor can rewrite small sections as well as correct the overall language grammar, a proofreader cannot. A proofreaders sole job is to review the final draft of a document and check it for minor errors that have been missed during the rest of the writing process.
Editing, otherwise known as content editing, is the process of checking a document not for spelling and grammatical errors, but rather for inconsistencies, factual errors and contradictions. When reviewing fictional work, the editor will check for things like plot, character and dialogue discrepancies, they will check whether the overall story has developed properly and ensure that any sub-plots introduced have been integrated and resolved if necessary.
A content editor is able to rewrite whole lines, sentences or even paragraphs if they feel that it is necessary in order to improve the overall flow of the content. By the time the editor is finished, substantial changes may have occurred in the content and, while they do of course need to be approved by the author, they are typically made in order to help the content flow and sound better overall.
While copyeditors can easily check any variety of content, editors may specialize in a certain genre or topic. For example there are editors of car magazines that would perhaps not be so effective at editing a fantasy novel, and vice versa.
A good content editor will keep an eye out for spelling and grammatical errors and correct them as they go, but they will focus on the overall content and, because they can add and change certain things, editors also have the potential to create more errors without realizing.
An editor may also use similar programs to a copyeditor, but due to the extensive changes they can and often do make, they will likely require more notes to explain what they changed and why they felt that it was required.
As you can see a copyeditor and an editor while sounding the same, in fact do vastly different jobs and have a completely different purpose in preparing the final draft of a document. A copyeditor will correct the spelling, grammar and language while an editor will correct the content as a whole. Theses jobs may also be done by the same person but should not be done at the same time. The reason for this is, as mentioned above, an editor can made fairly large changes to a document and when writing new content, there is always a rather high likelihood that an error has been made. By doing them at different times, the editor ensures that they will perform each role effectively without letting one take over and control the focus, therefore avoiding any easily avoidable errors that could affect their work and in turn their reputation.
In conclusion, while copyeditors and editors provide different services, they should be used in tandem to ensure the best possible quality of whichever document they are working on. A copyeditor should be used to go through the document initially, correcting any errors that may exist with the language of the text. They should be followed by a content editor who will go examine the document for its flow and to make sure everything makes sense, is relevant and that the content moves forward towards a rational end. And finally, in a realistic scenario, a proofreader will be brought in to check the final draft and to correct any errors that were either missed or added by the previous two editors. The proofreader should also, ideally, be a different person. I mentioned earlier that copyediting and editing are sometimes carried out by one individual, to ensure that the document in impartially checked and corrected, a separate person should be used to proofread and approve the final draft of the document being reviewed. These three services all work together and should always be used if the document is of any importance to the writer.