Many people are confused about the distinct responsibilities that an editor and a proofreader have in reviewing written text (including book manuscripts). How does each role differ and can’t the same person undertake both tasks?
A proofreader’s task list
A proofreader will check your written work for grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. They usually review a book manuscript after an editor has finished working on it (and you have completed your review of all their suggested changes to your Word document). A proofreader’s job is not to make revisions to the actual narrative. Instead, they will make any necessary corrections prior to publication. They look at the final copy as it would be printed – reviewing formatting aspects of the publication such as too many end-of-line hyphens in a row, widows and/or orphans, or a blank section break at the top of a page, in addition to checking grammar and spelling.
Although many copy editors also offer proofreading as part of their services, proofreading is a specialised type of editorial service.
An editor’s task list
Unlike proofreading which is undertaken when the author has finished writing, an editor may work on a manuscript over long periods of time until it is perfected. Editing (especially structural or developmental editing) is a much more involved process than proofreading so it can take months to complete one project. And while editing also involves finding typos and grammatical errors, editing includes one major task that proofreading does not: checking the actual meaning of the written content.
An editor reads a writer’s manuscript and makes corrections to ensure it follows the conventions of good writing. They help to identify flaws in the storyline or flesh out a sub-plot. They refine word choices and make sure that syntax of the writing is smooth. They may suggest reorganisation of content, recommend changes to chapter titles, and highlight lapses in logic or sequential slip-ups in the narrative. They will check that is continuity is maintained throughout the chapters and ensure dialogue is believable.