What is the Difference Between Proofreading and Copyediting?

Published on: 01/23/2023
Published By: Liz Jalkiewicz
difference between proofreading and copyediting

Many people use the terms proofreading and editing interchangeably, but there is quite a difference between the two as they take place at two different stages of the editorial process. As registered dietitian nutritionists and writers, it’s important that we know the difference between proofreading and copyediting so that we can best determine the editorial needs we have for our projects.

Copyediting is the act of improving what an author writes. Proofreading, on the other hand, is a safety net that ensures that the author and copy editor didn’t miss anything. These are two different tasks with the same goal of making the writing as close to error-free as possible. 

The Importance of Editorial Services for Registered Dietitians Nutritionists

Editorial services can help ensure that not only is your information accurate, credible, and evidence-based, but that it’s also been reviewed for things like spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, overall flow, as well as brand voice and tone alignment.

It’s critical that we get RDNs to not only share this knowledge through these communication outlets, but that we get the public to read it, see it, view it, download it, and yes – purchase it.

RDNs are the nutrition experts; but not necessarily the editorial experts. It’s important to seek out editorial services for many of the communication projects you are working on so that your message is not only heard loud and clear, but it’s also as close to error-free as possible.

What is the Difference Between Proofreading and Editing?

Editing comes first and consists of reviewing and improving upon the overall quality of writing on the first or final draft of your document. It checks for things like overall flow, sentence structure, readability, tone, voice, and adhering to a style guide (if applicable). We’ll dive deeper into the difference between copyediting and content editing below.

In the final stages, proofreading fixes more surface-level errors such as grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and formatting errors. It should be a faster process than editing, which can take multiple rounds of revisions. Proofreading is the last stage in the editorial process before you hit publish.

What is Editing?

As noted above, the purpose of editing is to improve the overall quality of the writing in terms of style, voice, and flow or structure. It’s what you begin doing as soon as you finish your first draft. Editing involves sharpening the impact of each word, refining sentences and paragraphs, and more. Simply put, the overall quality of your writing will be stronger and more professional once a professional editor has reviewed the copy.

Editing might also involve looking more closely at the content itself, using a credentialed professional, like a registered dietitian nutritionist, to clarify text, and often check facts as well. In addition, it’s another chance to look closely at spelling and grammar, just as with proofreading. 

Two common types of editing include content editing and copyediting.

Content editing is like the zoomed out, big picture review of your project. It’s a high-level overview that may require revisions in content, structure, language, and more.

When Would I Benefit from Content Editing Services?

This is the first step of the editing process, also known as developmental editing. If you have just completed the first draft of your project, this will review the broader perspective of the content. There may be suggestions for improving organization or structure of the copy, or revisions to better align with your brand tone and message. At this point, the focus is on improving the content in its entirety versus picking out small, minor details.

Copyediting takes place after a substantive edit but before proofreading. Copyediting allows for the opportunity to improve the overall quality of your writing while it’s still in draft form. It helps to make sure the overall flow, tone and voice of the content is expressed in the best possible way for the reader. It looks at the big picture while also still considering spelling, grammar, tone, and punctuation errors.

What Does a Copy Editor Do?

A copyeditor edits for correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness. Some of their specific responsibilities may include:

• Grammar, spelling, and punctuation
• Proper word usage
• Basic fact-checking
• Technical consistency among abbreviations
• Develop a style sheet to track editorial style based on the author’s preference

When Would I Benefit from Copyediting Services?

Copy editing is somewhere in between looking at the big picture and putting the content under a magnifying glass. In this stage of the editing process, the content would be reviewed for clarity, readability, cohesiveness, sentence structure, fact-checking, conciseness, and overall flow. Copy editing also reviews spelling, grammar and punctuation. During this process, the lines can be blurred a bit between content editing and proofreading, depending how much or how little you have requested of the copy editor.

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading is like the final pit stop before you are about to hit “publish.” Proofreading takes place after the copy editor has completed their work and before the work is published. It’s one final check on items like spelling, grammar, punctuation, hyperlink accuracy, and other surface-level items.

Proofreading tends to result in minor adjustments to copy rather than big changes that come along with content editing or copy editing. You should proofread only after you’ve completed all other editing revisions.

Proofreading is an important service because any writing intended for publication must communicate its message clearly.

What are Some Effective Proofreading Strategies?

You probably already use some of the strategies discussed below. Experiment with different tactics until you find a system that works well for you. The important thing is to make the process systematic so that you catch as many errors as possible in the least amount of time.

Don’t rely entirely on spelling checkers. These can be useful tools but they’re not entirely fool-proof.

Use grammar checkers with caution. These programs work with a limited number of rules, so they can’t identify every error and often make mistakes. It can be helpful but you still need to be able to evaluate the feedback and make your own final call.

Proofread for one error at a time. It’s so important to stay focused when you are proofreading. If you are trying to look for a multitude of errors than you may let something slide through the crackers. Go through the copy once looking just for typos; then again just for punctuation errors, etc.

Read slowly and read aloud. Reading this way allows you to say each word and also lets you hear how the words sound together.

Separate your copy sentence by sentence. This technique helps you to read every sentence carefully. Hit “return” after each sentence so it begins on a new line. You can also use a ruler or another piece of paper to only highlight that one line you are focused on.  

Circle each punctuation mark. By doing this, you are making a concerted effort to identify and check each punctuation mark in your copy.

Read the copy backwards. This helps to check for spelling errors. Since the content won’t make sense in this direction, it will force you to focus on the spelling of each word.  You can either read it backwards word by work, or sentence by sentence.

What Does a Proofreader Do?

A proofreader checks for the following:
• Any errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation missed by the copyeditor
• Correct word usage
• Identify formatting issues with font size, style, and layout
• Check references and broken links

When Would I Benefit from Proofreading Services?

If you are already satisfied with the overall quality of your work, and you just want a fresh set of eyes on your content to ensure it’s free from spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors, or any surface-type items, then proofreading would be your best option. Check out these 7 effective proofreading strategies for RDNs.

What Tips Apply to Both Editing and Proofreading?

While there are many differences between the two, there are some tips that still apply two both stages of the editorial process.

  1. Walk away from the copy once you’re done. Allow yourself some time and space from when you are finished writing the last word. This is helpful so that you have more clarity and a set of fresh eyes.
  • Some people prefer to edit or proofread on the computer versus others who prefer a good old-fashioned printed copy that they can mark up. Decide which method works best for you and stick with it.
  • Change the font, font size, or line spacing of your document to trick your eyes into seeing your document in a new light. This will help to give you a new, fresh perspective on your copy.
  • Try to minimize the number of distractions around you while doing this work. Find a quiet space. Limit distractions from your phone, your computer, your television, etc.
  • Work in short blocks of time. It’s difficult to stay focused and sharp for long periods. Work for a bit, then get up stretch your legs, go for a short walk, make a fresh cup of coffee, and then sit back down to resume your work.

What Types of Content Would Benefit from Editorial Services?

  • Patient/Client Education Materials
  • Blog Articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Social media copy
  • Web copy
  • Video scripts
  • Media interview scripts
  • Marketing Materials
  • Books
  • Online Course Material
  • Digital Downloads
  • E-books
  • Recipes
  • And more!

When Should I Outsource for Editorial Services?

It depends. I’d first ask you to be smart with your resources. And by resources, I mean, your time and money. Take a close look at where you are spending your resources now and ask yourself how or if the editorial process fits somewhere into the big picture.

All your content that you share with customers, clients, patients, and your online communities is a reflection of you as a professional registered dietitian nutritionist. Editing and proofreading are an important, and necessary, part of the content creation process, but at times, it seems like it’s easy to neglect these areas.

Ask yourself, what makes sense for me and my business at this time? What makes sense for me and my current schedule / time constraints? Lastly, I’d ask that you be kind to yourself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. If you know that writing, editing, or proofreading are not your strongest skillsets, then seek out professional editorial services. This will only help to strengthen your content and your business in the long run.

The Takeaway: Difference Between Proofreading and Copyediting

By now, I think you have a good understanding of the difference between proofreading and copyediting:

  • EDITING will improve the overall quality of your writing
  • CONTENT EDITING will take a zoomed-out, big picture approach
  • COPY EDITING will start looking more closely at the nitty gritty of the project
  • PROOFREADING will nearly perfect already good writing, ensure that it is error-free, and ready for you to hit publish

As mentioned in the beginning, it’s important that we know the differences when it comes to proofreading versus editing so that we can best determine the editorial needs we may need for various projects as they each play a unique role in the revision process.

In the end, the key takeaway is that all stages of the editorial process are important, and each play a role in our work as registered dietitian nutritionists, regardless of how big or small our business, blog or [insert side hustle of choice here] may be in this very moment. We are the nutrition experts. Our content matters. Let’s make it count.


Hi, I'm Liz!

I’m so happy that you are here! I hope you enjoy diving into all things self-publishing, writing, editing, and more. Read the articles, download the free resources, and more!

Learn More

Download Free Guide

Ultimate guide to help you get organized as you begin your self-publishing journey

Download Free Guide

View Recent Posts