The Way We Work
February 1, 2010 by Amanda Foley

Updated: April 11, 2014

When hiring a freelance writer or editor, it’s important that both you and the freelancer have the right expectations. Are you certain you know what it is you need help with?

Editing, proofreading (also called “proofing”) and copyediting are often assumed to be the same thing — but they’re not. Are you looking for someone to improve the style and flow of your writing, or do you simply want someone to ensure that your commas are in the right places?

In publishing, it’s typically understood that a document that has been edited will still need to be proofed. An editor is often hired for their individual style or specialization in a particular subject area, but if you’re looking for someone to go through a text with a fine-tooth comb, you need to find a proofreader or copyeditor.

To help clarify things, we’ve created this helpful guide to explain the differences between these three skills.


When hiring a freelance editor, you’re hiring someone to review and change your text with the intent to improve the flow and overall quality of your writing.  An editor has the freedom to remove entire sentences or rewrite entire paragraphs. A good editor will correct any obvious errors they come across, but their main goal is to use their expertise and intuition to ensure the document makes sense, cut down on wordiness, and clarify any ambiguity.


Proofreading is the process of examining the final draft of a document or text — after it has been edited — to ensure there are absolutely no errors. A proofreader will review for spelling errors, punctuation errors, typos or incorrect use of regional English (i.e. ensuring that you’re using American English or British English when necessary).

For important proofreading, you will want to hire an experienced freelancer with the the ability to find even the smallest grammatical errors that others might normally dismiss. Hiring a proofreader is particularly helpful if you’re not confident in your writing, or if English is not your first language.

While proofreading can be done electronically — for example, using track changes in Microsoft Word — it is just as often done on a printed version (also referred to as a “hard copy”) or PDF. In this case, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with proofreaders’ marks, a collection of symbols and shorthand to indicate corrections. (Rest assured: professional graphic designers will also understand these marks!)


To “copyedit” a document is to proofread it — with the added expectation of ensuring style consistency with other content from the company or publication. Copyediting is also known as “sub-editing” in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

When looking for a freelance copyeditor, ensure they have the talented eye of a proofreader as well as additional expertise in matters of different styles of writing.  Some measures of consistency include making sure names, locations and dates are always treated the same way. A copyeditor will also have expert knowledge of different style guides and may also perform fact-checking or have specialized knowledge in a particular field. As such, a great copyeditor may cost a bit more than a proofreader.

In summary:

An editor

  • Rewrites sentences and paragraphs for flow
  • Makes the text clearer and more understandable
  • Uses their specialized knowledge to clarify and improve text

A proofreader

  • Goes beyond “spellcheck” to catch errors a computer might miss
  • Ensures zero grammatical errors, usually after a document has already been edited

 A copyeditor (or “sub-editor”)

  • Proofreads, with an added expertise in ensuring style consistency appropriate to a publication or organization

Now that you know what each type of professional does, you can find someone who will do a great job for you.

Amanda Foley

Contributing Author

Amanda Foley is a community manager at Government Digital Services in the UK, as well as a freelance writer and strategist for tech startups. Previously, Amanda was a marketing associate for, UK community manager for and Community Manager at TechHub London. She likes strong coffee, stand-up comedy and science fiction.

  • Jeri B

    Just wanted you to know I use your article to help clients understand the distinctions and their desired scope. Great article!

  • Laurel Waiton

    Thanks for sharing this informative post with us. I found it
    very interesting while reading it. You have very-well elaborated about the
    difference between editing vs. proof reading. Essay
    editing is an important aspect
    . Keep posting like this. Eagerly
    waiting for your next post.

  • Pingback: Tools for editing and proofreading | Tony Jones - The Craft of Words()

  • TBrown

    So this article needed a proofreader not an editor… “is is to proofread it” (Copyediting, line 1)

    • Amy Sept

      Thank you for spotting that!

  • Tony Jones

    Useful to have d distinction laid out rather than none. I have linked back to this from my own blog in a review of tools currently available (and none are perfect in my view)

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  • Pingback: Top 10 Proofreading Tips | crainindustries()

  • Princess Sarah

    It’s fun reading through your explanations I admit to it

  • Ed Crabtree

    As an editor/proof-reader, I thought you might want to change “unstandable” to “understandable”.

    • Amy Sept

      Thanks for flagging that, Ed!

  • Marjorey

    As far as I’m concerned, proofreading may be the last stage of editing before a piece is printed. There might be several stages of copy editing before that. Therefore copy editing and proofreading is essential in preparing any written papers. :)

  • muhammad itani

    This was really helpful… Thanks.

  • alanwilliams

    Thanks that was really helpful.. though ironically you repeated the word “terms” in para 2

  • Jenn

    Thanks for this! It’s really helpful.

    I’ve been reading Chicago Manual Of Style and I enjoy it.

    I’m now in a proofreading/copyediting/editing job-hunt.

  • Pingback: Proofreading, Copyediting and Editing |()

  • Tamara

    Thanks, Essay Editing!

    Cormac, I like how you think! And you are absolutely right! I checked the AP Stylebook, and indeed, they indicate that PDF should be capitalized.

    Nice call! It also proves the point that even editors, when writing, could really benefit from a proofreader to make those great catches.

    Off to make a correction!

    • mislyn

      Great article Tamara! For someone new to freelancing as I am, these tips will definitely come in handy! It is certainly prudent to always make sure that you know exactly what the client wants. My motto is always “no question is a stupid question.” That is true more so when you are dealing with clients remotely (an email may not be as clear as actually speaking to the person).

  • Cormac


    Are you sure that ‘on pdf

  • Essay Editing

    This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best. Thanks for posting this informative article.

  • Mike Sellars

    One way of looking at the difference between proofreading and copy editing is, on the whole, proofreading is about accuracy whilst copy editing is about quality.

    Of course, proof readers contribute to the overall quality of a piece of published writing by ensuring the strict accuracy of the content.

    Another difference is that proof readers tend to make ‘analogue’ decisions: right/wrong, correct/incorrect. Copy editors generally question a writer’s judgment and enter into ‘grey area’ discussions.

  • editing proofreading services

    Nice job! Like many others, I am just getting started. The tips you provided are most useful. Thanks.

  • Essay Editing

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource! The topic which you have discussed is very informative. Keep it up!

  • Tamara

    Thank you, Laxmidhar! I’m glad you appreciate it. I wish I had understood all of these nuances when I was first starting out in the editing world!

  • Laxmidhar Besra

    Very useful information, clearly differentiating what is proofreading, copy editing and editing.

    • Faruq Kakarzai

      Thanks for your explanations. I found them helpful in my understanding all about proofreading and editing.