Proofreading vs. Copyediting: The Difference

Whilst these two terms may seem interchangeable, they both have different roles in the writing process, both for academic and business writing.

When planning to check through your work before submission or publishing, it is key that your document is copyedited and then proofread. In order to help you successfully manage both of these aspects, we have broken down the two elements and explained them.


The copyediting stage comes when all of the writing is complete and initial basic checks have taken place.

Copyediting involves checking for mistakes and inconsistencies. For example, down to details such as whether you have been consistent with hyphens throughout. If there are repetitions of points or specific words, a copyeditor can identify and rectify this.

It’s not just checking words, though. Copyediting requires an understanding of the bigger picture. Having knowledge of the start, middle and end of the document will mean that flow and structure can also be assessed.

Business Writing

Whether you are writing for a business document or for general publication, it is paramount that the story being told makes sense.

If somebody with little or no prior knowledge of the topic was to read the document, would they be able to pick up on the context and messaging? Is your story laid out in a sensible order?

Another key feature of copyediting includes checking accuracy. Particularly in formal business documents or large campaigns, all of the key facts need to be accurate.

Ensure that facts and figures are approved even before the writing begins, but don’t be afraid to keep checking if you are unsure. It is best to be cautious in these situations.

Copyeditors require a tight attention to detail while maintaining that everything fits the overall messaging. If something doesn’t read right or the message is slightly misleading, a particular section may need to be re-written. The copyeditor can re-write this if you’re happy for them to.

Academic Writing

This idea of everything making sense within the bigger picture still stands with academic writing. The difference here, however, is that copyediting will ensure that each section of the work is relevant to the title or topic, as well as in the flow of the essay or dissertation.

A professional copyeditor can assess if the assignment reads properly, and suggest edits or move things around if necessary.

One of the skills which develops with academic writing is the ability to extract important information and cut out the waffle. Writing concisely is required, especially when there is lots to discuss. Most academic assignments have a designated word count, too, so you need to make sure you use each word wisely.

Copyediting can help to cut out any unnecessary elements or duplicated points. This will help to get your point across quickly and present a punchy argument to the reader.


Now that you are familiar with copyediting, you can factor in time to manage that in your project planning. Now, let’s explore what defines proofreading.

Proofreading is the final stage before either publishing or submission. Copyediting will have been completed, amends will have been made, and this is one last chance to check all the intricate details.

At this stage, as the writer, you certainly won’t be wanting any big changes, simply a final tidy up. Any tweaks which have been missed, perhaps in the rearranging of things, can be rectified.

Whether you are proofreading your own work, having a colleague do so, or getting it professionally done, make sure the copy being proofread is the final version. Name your files appropriately so you can be confident the right version is used.

The proofreading process predominantly focuses on typographical errors. From fonts, to spelling, grammar and punctuation, the detail is in the individual words and sentence structure, rather than the overall messaging.

Proofreading Styles

If you are proofreading a document for the first time, be it something you have written, or a peer or colleague has written, there are different styles in which to approach it.

Business Documents

Official business documents, sales tools and marketing materials may each require a different approach.

Formal documents, for example, are more likely to contain factual information and numbers. Every number within the document will need to be checked, be it a monetary amount, a percentage or a date. It is all too easy for your finger to slip onto the wrong key without a typo being picked up.

If terms and conditions need to be stated, make sure they are there, and that they are correct for the particular campaign.

Checking that all words and punctuation are correct will ensure that business communications can be presented with confidence.

Academic Writing

If you have undertaken research as part of your assignment, you will need to make sure the results are accurately presented. Take time to check numbers and details, both in the text and in any charts which accompany the data.

Most institutions will reward correct use of the English Language. When writing for an academic purpose, you are expected to use formal language. Make sure that any unusual words you do use fit the context.

There are many words which sound the same or have similar spellings and can easily be mistaken for one another. Give yourself time to double check the meanings of these words so that the entire assignment makes total sense.

Proofreading Pointers

You’ve got all you need to get started with your proofreading, but only after the copyediting is complete!

There are different ways in which you can go about your proofreading. It depends on whether you feel most comfortable reading from a computer screen or from paper.

If you are confident you can identify errors on a screen without missing anything, you could use the ‘Track Changes’ tool in Microsoft. This tool enables you to add comments to sections of the document, as well as tweak anything else in the text.

Each change is saved so that if the writer and the proofreader are different people, all changes and suggested amendments can be easily seen. You can choose to either accept or reject any changes with this feature.

Should you feel like you have spent enough time at a computer screen through all of the research, reading and writing, you may benefit from printing off the document. Seeing your work in a different format – yes, even if just on paper – might help you to spot any amendments with more ease.

If you prefer to do this, take a coloured pen and you can make notes and circle or cross out any punctuation as you go. Once you’re happy with all of the amends, simply work your way through the document and make those tweaks.

There is no way better or more effective with the other; it comes down to personal preference and where you feel you can focus best.

Our Services

If you would like professional proofreading or copyediting for your documents, you can get in touch with us for an instant quote. Our professional proofreaders will be more than happy to check your academic or business document, no matter what size.