Actually, the title is slightly false. I will do copywriting (or content creation as I tend to call it) but it isn’t my primary focus. However, I am often asked to create content; a frustrating number of referrals are along the lines of “I was told you’re a writer”.
The written word goes through a process: it gets written, edited and then checked. I usually come in at the end and do the check. That is proofreaders’ traditional territory. But most proofreaders will dabble in editing and writing; indeed, there is plenty of fluidity within the professions. This probably adds to the misunderstanding about the roles.
Previous blogs have covered proofreading, so I won’t spend ages on it, but proofreading is the final check before publication. There won’t be scope for major textual changes or re-workings: it should be the finished article. The proofread is simply to polish it all off, to ensure no errors have crept in. That said, some tidying-up can be done but potentially it will be quite limited. It may have been typeset already, meaning that any big changes would result in this having to be re-done. By the time the proofreader is looking at it, the content should be exactly how the author wants it. As the CIEP puts it:
“A proofreader looks for consistency in usage and presentation, and accuracy in text, images and layout, but cannot be responsible for the author’s or copyeditor’s work.”
Copyeditors get their hands on a document (the ‘copy’) once the author has written it but before it gets put into any finalised format by the typesetters. They will look for mistakes made by the author – spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc but also make structural changes, re-format, improve conciseness, even re-write if need be! Ultimately, they work with the author to ensure the author is saying what they want to say and saying it well. Put simply, copyeditors edit copy.
I’m sure you’re thinking there is an overlap between proofreading and copyediting. You would be right, and this is probably why the two roles get confused by the person-on-the-street.
“Copyeditors catch all the mistakes the author missed. Proofreaders catch all the mistakes the copyeditor missed.”
Copyeditors are human, just like authors. So we proofreaders are here to check for them.
The term proof-edit is growing in popularity, whereby the same person does the copyediting and proofreading. This can be quicker and save a bit of cash, but there are perils in checking one’s own work and errors can creep in during a proof-edit.
A copywriter will write copy. Copywriting is the process of creating content (and is nothing to do with copyright, although something a copywriter has written would be subject to copyright and the copyright would likely be held by the copywriter…) that will be edited and ultimately published. Of course, there is overlap here with copyediting. Authors may well edit their own work (I believe Oscar Wilde once agonised all morning over a comma) and they may well review things after the copyeditor has
ripped it to shreds worked their magic on it.
Conclusion: each role is different and requires different skills. It is important to go to the right one at the right time. Put simply, if you need someone to check your material before it goes public – get a proofreader, ideally me. If you have written something and want it edited, get a copyeditor. If you want something written, get a copywriter.