Editing Course: Editing & Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

The second day of my course was all theory. In an effort to retain the maximum amount of information, I intend to write about the theory topics here. However, I probably won’t write posts for the practical topics, which I notice will start from topic 4 onwards. We’ll see what happens when the time comes.

2: Editing & Proofreading – What’s the Difference?

There are two types of editing:

1. *Substantive Editing for structure and substance.
2. *Copyediting for improvement of grammar, punctuation, factualness and formatting.

There are two types of proofreading:

1. *Proofreading to correct mistakes in text.
2. Comparative Proofreading to compare live copy (corrected text) against dead copy (original text that was marked up).

* The division between these can be quite grey though.


Substantive (or structural) Editing

  • Substantive editing is where there are changes presented to the author by the editor, in the form of suggestions or guidelines. The changes may be to do with character, situation or plot in order to improve or maintain the internal coherence in the story. Substantive editing is different to copyediting in that it is based on the editor’s creative input.
  • A structural editor only works with the author’s draft, and makes suggestions between the double-spaced text or in the margin.
  • The author should do their own substantive editing prior to submitting the manuscript to the editor.
  • There are no defined rules with substantive editing as there are for the copyediting and proofreading aspects. Therefore, to be a substantive editor is to be more highly skilled.
  • A good editor needs to be meticulous, apply commonsense, have determination, be patient and sensitive to the author’s intentions.


  • It is used to improve grammar and punctuation, correct factual errors, and ensure consistency of formatting (including headers, footers, margins, paragraph layouts and table of contents).
  • A copyeditor works with the edited draft of the manuscript (after the structural editor has finished with it).
  • A copyeditor does not usually write in the margins unless there’s no room between the lines of text.
  • In a distinct copyediting role, no substantive editing will be undertaken.
  • A copyeditor will likely correct and improve work based on established rules and guidelines.



  • Proofreading is the reading and correction of mistakes in a proof document (usually after it has been edited and copyedited).
  • Often clients confuse “proofreading” with an edit and proofread, so it is essential for the proofreader to know exactly what the client wants.
  • A “standard proofread” means checking for errors only, there is no copyediting improvements required and no structural information given.
  • The rate for a standard proofread is lower than that for copyediting and substantive work.

Comparative Proofreading

Once the editor or copyeditor has looked over the manuscript, the typesetter or author sets the work, making the suggested corrections.

The comparative proofreader then takes the corrected copy and the original copy and compares the two, checking that all corrections made by the copyeditor have been included.

This comparison between two texts is called comparative proofreading. It is a word-by-word, line-by-line check and is done with a ruler.

The job requires patience, concentration, a methodical approach and an eye for detail.

In Conclusion

Many publishers and corporate enterprises will outsource their editing jobs. A “complete job” often means “copyediting” and “proofreading” with a dash of “substantive editing” thrown in. For this reason, a professional editor should be able to do all the skills required for all of the above.

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