Proofreading, Copyediting, and Editing: What’s the Difference?

By Sara E. Hoffmann, School & Library Series Managing Editor

Sometimes I’ll be browsing reader reviews of a new release I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I’ll see comments like: “Great book, but it could have been better edited. I spotted several missing commas!”

I take the point. Those missing commas distract me as a reader too. But I always want to reply to such comments and say, “Technically, you mean that the proofreading could have been better.”


Things like missing commas aren’t something I pay a whole lot of attention to when I’m working on an edit. Instead, an edit is about things like:

  • Organization (does one topic lead to the next in a logical way?)
  • Substance (does the writing leave readers with lots of unanswered questions?)
  • Tone (does the writing hold the reader’s interest? is it too informal for the subject matter? too formal?)


Proofreading is all about those missing commas! Good proofreaders are pros at spotting punctuation errors, misused words, and other technical sticky points.


Then there’s copyediting. That’s a whole separate thing from either editing or proofreading. Copyediting falls somewhere in between doing a substantive edit and catching those technical mishaps. A copyeditor might mark a missing comma. But he or she may also suggest moving sentences around within a paragraph to create a smoother flow.

Still, I understand how people might be confused about what it is, exactly, that editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders do. And I never mind it when people assume that I do deal mostly in commas, apostrophes, and semicolons!

Yet every time I do an edit, I’m eternally grateful that, as soon as my work on a manuscript is done, it will go to a copyeditor for a once-over on punctuation, flow, and cohesiveness. Then, after the book is in layout, I heave a sigh of relief that a proofreader will be making final cleanups, adding back in any punctuation that may have gotten dropped in typesetting and making technical corrections to the photo captions, which, by this stage, have been added to the book.

Lerner books wouldn’t be what they are without the three pairs of eyes provided by proofreaders, copyeditors, and editors. And if I do say so myself, every season we all hone our skills a little more, bringing you better and better books! Here is just a handful of books from our upcoming Spring 2018 season. I hope you find that our work has paid off in the form of books that you and the readers in your life will love.

Wangari Maathai  9781541523586fc_Large

Make and Upload Your Own Videos  World's Best (and Worst) Animal Jokes

Who Invented the Light Bulb?   Danica Patrick

To read editor Kayla Hechsel’s thoughts on copyediting high-low fiction, click here

4 thoughts on “Proofreading, Copyediting, and Editing: What’s the Difference?

    1. saraehoffmann

      I’m a big believer in a second (and third! and fourth!) pair of eyes on things. Thank you for your kind words, Heather. It’s a pleasure to read your manuscripts!

Leave a Reply