What's the difference between proofreading, copy-editing and editing? If you're not sure what kind of editing service you need, this brief overview might help. In traditional book publishing, there are various stages to the editing process. Usually, the work at each stage is undertaken by a different editorial professional with expertise in that area. 

Developmental editing

This is the most complicated, time-consuming and costly type of editing. Where the copy-editor takes a line-by-line approach, the developmental (or 'structural') editor adopts a macro approach, addressing whether the book works as a whole. The editor will consider structure, characterization, dialogue, point of view and pace. 

There's a useful overview of structural editing at Writing.ie magazine.


Copy-editing is carried out before proofreading, and its purpose is to ensure clarity, internal consistency and readability. It includes all aspects of proofreading but the copy-editor will also:

  • Correct or query doubtful facts, weak arguments, plot holes, gaps in numbering and timeline problems
  • In fiction, check that characters haven't changed their name or eye colour, or suddenly changed from first to third person ('head-hopping')
  • Identify ambiguities, irrelevancies, unnecessary repetitions and infelicities, making deletions and/or corrections for sense, clarifying and confirming with the author as necessary
  • Improve sentence structure, style and flow of writing, remaining sensitive to the authorial voice at all times. Ensure consistency of style and clarity in the text
  • Create a style sheet which details choices made concerning spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Look for potential legal issues in the text and flags issues where appropriate for further investigation by the client.

You will find useful information about copy-editing and how to work with freelance editors at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Contact me if you'd like to discuss my copy-editing services.


Outside the publishing industry, 'editing' is often considered synonymous with 'proofreading'. However, proofreading is a distinct stage in the editing process: it is the final quality check and tidy-up after a copy-edit. It includes: 

  • Checking for any grammar, punctuation and spelling errors/omissions missed by the copy-editor 
  • Checking consistency in spelling and usage, in line with the style guide (where supplied)
  • Looking for omissions and inconsistencies in typography, layout and content
  • Flagging any ambiguity in meaning.

Context is key and knowing when to leave alone is an essential skill for the proofreader. The author’s voice, the intended readership and the potential cost implications of changes made to paged proofs, must all be carefully considered. You'll find useful information about proofreading and how to work with freelance editors at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Proof-editing is a more recently coined term. It is a hybrid copy-editing/proofreading service that is ideal for self-publishing authors and businesses. All the usual proofreading concerns are included, alongside a 'light' copy-edit and/or other editing services by agreement.


Style guides

Publishers and large businesses may have a 'house style' which sets out their preferences for grammar, spelling and writing style. There are also industry standard style guides which copy-editors and proofreaders use to ensure consistency. Style guides typically employed in the UK include:

  • New Hart’s Rules
  • New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors
  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage
  • Penguin Guide to Punctuation (RL Trask).