What’s the Difference between a Proofreader and an Editor?

There’s a world of difference between a proofreader and an editor—and significant differences between types of editing.

Authors of nonfiction books might work with a development editor early in a project, sometimes even before writing starts. A development editor works with an author drafting an outline, including the order of chapters, to ensure that the arguments and ideas of the book flow logically. Are there any gaps? Is further research required? 

Once a first draft is finished, a substantive editor may be called upon. If you’ve used a development editor, this type of editing may not be required. A substantive editor provides a macro look at your book, focusing on organization and structure. This editor may move around or even remove blocks of copy to achieve coherence and flow.   

The copy editor is the one who knows where the apostrophes go. This pro reviews and corrects your manuscript for grammar; punctuation and spelling; repetition; jargon and proper word usage, such as sound-alike errors. Some also provide fact-checking at this stage. It doesn’t validate your hypothesis but it will confirm proper names and dates and quotation accuracy. A fact-checker reviews the names of people and their titles, names of businesses, books, buildings, corporations, and organizations. For example, if you write, “The event on Saturday, March 12 in 1965 marked the start of the ABC Corporation.” then the fact-checker will confirm that the day was a Saturday, that the corporation was indeed founded then, and that the proper name of the corporation is ABC Inc. 

And finally, the proofreader. This person flags any grammar or punctuation errors that the copy editor missed (it happens) and might also work on the formatting, for instance removing widows and orphans in print versions and consistency, for instance, headings and sub-headings size and font.

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