The proofreader and the copy-editor are in charge of making sure that the text of any product that involves writing (such as magazines, newspapers and books) is free of any errors, whilst ensuring that texts are engaging and accessible to the readers.
Proofreading involves correcting grammatical and spelling errors, while copy-reading involves looking at the work and fixing any problems with style and tone.
Copy-editors usually do fact-checks as well, making sure that everything in the text is accurate and true. Most publications combine both job roles into one position (in which case, they’re called copy-editors rather than proofreaders).
Copy-editors are usually hired by newspapers. Some magazines have copy-editors and proofreaders, too, but their longer production time allows for the use of fewer people to assess the articles. In book publishing, the proofreaders also do some administrative work, such as coordinating with writers and with printers.
Salary & benefits
Copy-editors who work in-house can earn from £20,000 to £30,000 a year. Those who work freelance get a flat rate for every article they proofread or copy-edit.
In general, copy-editors will earn more, but the difference is usually small, almost negligible.
Copy-editors and proofreaders work longer hours when necessary, especially when there’s a deadline to be met. In newspapers, copy-editors usually work odd hours due to the late timing of deadlines.
Freelance copy-editors are often under tight deadlines as well, but they are generally more flexible. Copy-editing is desk work, so they should be able to handle repetitive, methodical work.
Copy-editors and proofreaders should have good concentration and attention to even the smallest details.
As with most editorial work, copy-editing is open to every professional writer or editor, although those with degrees in publishing, media studies, and journalism are preferred.
Specialist companies may require more specialist degrees as well. In any case, copy-editors should have a good grasp of the English language.
While some sources say that copy-editing is work which may require postgraduate units, it’s important to note that copy-editing and proofreading are different from the work done by actual editors.
Copy-editors are merely in charge of the text’s external quality, so to speak. It is still the editor who has the final say on the slant of the text and the bones of its argument or narrative.
Training & progression
The position may require basic work-based training, although this is largely so that those still wet behind the ears can learn the ropes.
There are short courses and seminars on copy-editing and grammar available, although certain publications have specific procedures and standards beyond the basics of copy-editing and proofreading, which those who are newly hired will learn during a brief training period.
Proofreading is an entry-level position, but copy-editing isn’t. Copy-editors will need prior experience in writing and/or publishing, while proofreaders only need basic training and basic written and editing skills.
In any case, many copy-editors (freelance or otherwise) use this position as a means of getting into more specialized areas, specifically in writing.
For instance, aspiring science writers can start by proofreading in a science journal. Newspaper reporters can use proofreading as an entry route towards actual reporting, especially if they have an academic background.
Management roles are also possible for copy-editors, once they gain enough experience.