Many people get confused about the roles of copy-editor and proofreader – largely, I think, because there is a certain amount of overlap between the two disciplines. A copy-edit, which precedes a proofread, goes line by line through the text to root out not only errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also issues of style, usage, consistency and repetition, among other things. In a nutshell, a copy-edit – as the title suggests – involves editing the text.
A proofread, however, is the final read-through before publication. It involves looking for errors or inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor or have subsequently crept in when the author made any amendments to the text, as well as checking layout, page numbering, chapter headings etc. The important thing to remember is that a proofread is the last read of the text to make sure everything is as ‘clean’ as possible. It’s not an edit.
Of course, if a proofreader notices that a character was driving a green Land Rover on page 31, but the Land Rover was grey on page 207, they will bring that to your attention. Those types of details should, of course, be picked up by the copy-editor, but we are only human after all, so some things can slip through the net. And that is precisely why you call upon a proofreader to give the text a final read.
Naturally, there is more to both copy-editing and proofreading, and you can read a comprehensive overview of both – plus the differences between them – by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders HERE.
And of course, you can always contact me if you want to discuss the stage you’re at, and which service you would benefit from most.