Like the Stabler and Benson of the publishing world, editors and proofreaders may be seen as interchangeable, but each brings a different perspective and skill set to the editorial table. According to The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, editors and proofreaders are involved at different points in the review process. Sometimes, the same person can act as both editor and proofreader; sometimes they may also be separate positions.
The Role of an Editor
After the writer, an editor is typically the second person to shape a piece of writing, and she examines it critically for organization, flow, and the general strength of content. Skilled editors are not unlike structural engineers -- they review content for accuracy and for missing elements or extraneous material that may disrupt the clarity of the piece. An editor’s top objective is to improve the material at hand, according to the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of Melbourne. An editor may even get stuck rewriting an article. At many publications, an editor is also involved with planning the content of a publication ahead of time and assigning work to staff and freelancers.
The Role of a Proofreader
Details are the name of the game when it comes to proofreading. After the editor works alongside the writer to build up and refine the structure and focus of a piece, the proofreader polishes and shines it until it’s ready for a public debut. While the editor is involved early in the writing process, a proofreader is typically the last person to shape a written work. Proofing is a critical part of the publishing process, because it is often the final line of defense against typos and grammatical errors. The proofreader is beholden to deadline pressures and must quickly review content for these types of mistakes, along with any glaring issues in composition. And there's no way computer spell checkers can replace the eagle eyes of a genuine proofreader, notes The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Computerized proofing systems, while helpful, almost always leave behind unseemly mistakes.
The common starting point for editors is a strong background in writing. This is especially crucial for editors working directly with writers, who are often protective of their work. Editing demands a big-picture outlook that allows the editor to view the entire scope of content and orchestrate any necessary changes. Editing can be a stressful job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, because it requires juggling multiple projects while keeping up with publication deadlines. Editors must also be superlative communicators who can relay information to those on the publishing and production sides and to writers. Providing constructive feedback and asking strategic questions are tools in every editor’s toolbox.
Is your superpower spotting grammatical errors from 1,000 yards away? Is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary your trusty sidekick? If so, you’ve got may have the chops to excel as a professional proofreader. Proofreaders are extremely detail-oriented and don’t doze off at the prospect of poring over endless pages of content. They are meticulous in nature, and they help writers to avoid errors of every variety -- from the minute to the major. Proofreaders must have an excellent command of the language, and that means knowing the ins and outs of spelling, grammar and syntax. Proofreaders may also be required to memorize an organization's house style, or a specific set of language and style rules pertaining to in-house content.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Editing and Proofreading
- Society for Editors and Proofreaders: Standards of Editing and Proofreading
- University of Melbourne: Editing and Proofreading (PDF)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Editors
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Proofreaders and Copy Markers
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Proofreading
Based in Los Angeles, Monica Stevens has been a professional writer since 2005. She covers topics such as health, education, arts and culture, for a variety of local magazines and newspapers. Stevens holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, with a concentration in film studies, from Pepperdine University.