How Editing And Proofreading Work Together To Achieve Publishing Success



Editing and Proofreading are two different but related stages in the publishing process and both of them are indispensable for ensuring a successful publication. Although they are closely related and share some similarities, they are separate activities and differ in several respects. We shall begin by looking at the various definitions and functions of the two concepts, as these will naturally help to provide insights into the similarities and differences between them. We shall also look at the duties of the editor and those of the proofreader; this will not only highlight whatever overlap that exists between the two, but

it will also help to distinguish the duties and responsibilities of the editor from those of the proofreader. Generally, we shall examine the similarities and differences between the two and how both work together to achieve the desired publishing goal: an error-free publication.


According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the term ”edit” can mean any of the following: (1) “to prepare a piece of writing, a book, etc. to be published by correcting the mistakes, making improvements to it, etc.,” (2) “to be responsible for planning and publishing a newspaper, magazine, etc.” The term “proofread”, on the other hand, simply means “to read and correct a piece of written or printed work.” From these definitions, it is clear that editing has some similarities with proofreading. For instance, each of them involves correcting the mistakes. However, editing has a wider scope and involves greater responsibility than proofreading. In fact, proofreading can be said to be only a small part of the editing process, while editing involves the entire process of planning and publishing the work.

The editor is expected to understand, and work within the publishing philosophy of his employers. He is also expected to identify the needs of his readers and assist the author by helping him to present his work (manuscript) in a form that is not only readable, but comprehensible and retrievable. In other words, the editor serves many parties with divergent requirements. On the other hand, the proofreader is in charge of examining a proof and marking it for correction. Here again, it is made quite clear that the job of the editor is not only wider in scope but also involves greater authority and responsibility than that of the proofreader, whose job is only to read the work and draw the editor’s attention to any errors that should be corrected before publication.

It should be noted, however, that the editor requires the assistance of the proofreader in order to achieve a successful publication. It has been observed that a well-written, well-edited and well-designed job, if not properly proofread, is capable of being ruined if printed. This implies that both the editor and the proofreader play important roles in ensuring that the publication is free from errors.

The Different Duties of the Editor and the Proofreader

It is necessary at this juncture to look closely at the duties of the editor and those of the proofreader, as a way of highlighting the similarities and differences between them and appreciating how they work together to achieve a successful publication.

The Duties of the Editor

As mentioned earlier, the editing process (that is, the editor’s work) originates with the idea for the work itself and continues in the relationship between the author and the editor. In other words, the editor works for the publisher and also works for the author. It is the editor’s duty to choose the best and the most original manuscript and to get it ready for publication. The editor reads manuscripts and chooses writers whom he feels will fit best with the publishing house’s list of books. He has to identify the needs of his readers and assist the author by helping him to present his work (manuscript) in a form that is readable and comprehensible. Within the publishing house, the editor represents the writer and the writer’s work to the marketing and sales departments. The editor works closely with each writer on themes, stories, character development, writing style, and so forth. In short, the editor has to ensure that the writer’s work is exactly what the publisher wants.

The job of an editor consists of three main aspects: creative, substantive and technical editing. It should be noted however that an editor’s scope of responsibilities varies from firm to firm. In a small publishing firm, a single editor may be saddled with the task of carrying out these responsibilities, but three or four editors may share the work in a larger firm. Let’s take a closer look at these three broad aspects of the editor’s job.

Creative Editing

It has been observed that this aspect falls within the area of a sponsoring or commissioning editor who, after choosing the manuscript to be published, ensures that the publication is done well. The creative/sponsoring editor takes responsibility for developing the work from the manuscript to its successful publication.

Substantive Editing

Substantive (or content) editing usually goes together with technical/desk/copy editing, and its aim is to make sure that the author communicates his intention in the manuscript in a clear and correct way. His responsibilities include creating more line drawings and photographs, correcting the grammar and spelling in the manuscript, re-organizing the work where necessary, expanding or reducing the text as well as ensuring that titles, important terms, illustrations and tables are presented clearly and effectively.

Technical Editing

Also known as copy or desk editing, technical editing takes charge of the detailed preparation of the manuscript for the typesetter or printer. It is the job of the technical/copyeditor to make sure that grammar, spelling, punctuation and other aspects of language use are in accordance with “the house style”. He examines illustrations and photographs to ensure that they are well integrated with the text and are correctly referred to. The copy editor as well checks a manuscript for continuity of story and details, such as place names, characters’ names, and factual accuracy, numbering of chapters and sections, consistency in the use of punctuation and italics, and so on.
Generally, the copy editor is expected to ensure that the text flows, that it is sensible, fair, and accurate, and that it will provoke no legal problems for the publisher.

The Various Roles Editing Plays at Various Stages of the Publishing Process.

It is necessary to take a brief look at the various roles that editing plays at various stages of the publishing process. It is also important to look at how editing relates or liaises with virtually all the other departments of the publishing house in order to achieve the overall goals of the house.
Obtaining Manuscripts and Commissioning Projects to Fill Identified Gaps

It is the work of the editor to obtain manuscripts (or materials) for publication, and he does this through two different ways: (1) by accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and (2) by commissioning projects to fill identified gaps.

(1) Accepting unsolicited Manuscripts: unsolicited submissions are submissions sent directly to a publisher. It is the editor’s duty to examine and select the manuscripts which he feels will meet the standards of the publishing house. How such manuscripts are handled depends on the size of the publishing firm. Generally, it is the duty of the editor to accept a manuscript for publication or reject it.

(2) Commissioning projects to fill the identified gaps: the editors in educational publishing usually go out to assess the situation. When he identifies a gap, he would discuss the idea with his colleagues in the house, and he may be instructed to search for author(s) to write out the idea in a book. The publisher would make funds available for the writing workshop to produce a ‘commissioned script’ that normally would be worked out by the editor and eventually published.

The Editor, the Chosen Manuscript and the Editorial Board

Once the editor has gone through the manuscript and is satisfied that it meets the standards of the publishing house – that is, that it has high educational value and good market potentials he then presents his report to the editorial board of the firm. The editor’s report is usually supported by the reader’s report, along with estimated production cost, proposed published price, sales projections and other relevant information. The Editorial Board is normally made up of the Chief Executive or his representative, Head, Editorial department, Head of Sales department, Head of Marketing

department, Head, Distribution department, Head, Production department, Head, Finance department and Head, Publicity department. Of course, the size of the board depends on the size of the publishing firm. It is the duty of the editor to convince the board that the manuscript meets the publishing standards.

Acceptance and Negotiation

If the editor convinces the board, and the board accepts the manuscript, he then communicates this acceptance to the author and then a contract would be signed. It is normally the responsibility of commissioning editors to negotiate the purchase of intellectual property rights and agree on royalty rates as well as the advance payment. Agreement also has to be reached on the scope of publication as well as the intended formats.

Editing: Its Role in Meeting Sales and Marketing Requirements

The editorial process occurs alongside the sales and marketing stages. As the editing of text progresses, the editor liaises with the sales and marketing departments, who are to start the sales and marketing of the book as soon as the front cover design and initial layout are done. It is the duty of the editor to ensure that the work matches the style and grammatical requirements of each market in according with the house style of the publishing house.
From the foregoing, it can be seen that editing coordinates the various publishing processes from the planning stage to the final publication of the work.

The Duties of a Proofreader

As earlier noted, a proofreader has been described as a person who is skillful in the art of examining a proof and marking it for correction. A proof, as earlier noted too, is a version of a manuscript that has been typeset after copy-editing. When a manuscript is about to be published a proof of the job to be printed must get to the proofreader for proofreading, that is, for a final check before the manuscript is submitted to the printers.

The major work of the proofreader is to read the proof and detect any errors that should be corrected. This may involve one or two persons. It has been observed that two persons may be more effective: one person reads while the other marks on the proof. The proofreader’s job involves comparing the new typeset or typewritten copy letter by letter to an earlier version to make sure that the contents of the two versions are the same. He also needs to examine the new version and make sure that all the specifications for typesetting have been followed.

A proofreader (or a number of proofreaders) may end up proofreading a manuscript or document several times to pick up as many errors as possible. Proofreaders are concerned with the minute details, such as making sure that each page runs or leads into the next, ensuring that all elements on each page are properly placed, including captions, headers and footers, page numbers and illustrations. But they are not necessarily concerned with bigger issues of continuity or fact-checking which a copy editor would be concerned with.

Overlap between Editing and Proofreading

From the above discussion, it is noticeable that some considerable overlap exists between proofreading and editing, particularly between proofreading and copy-editing. As a result of this overlap, the term proofreading is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to copy-editing. Although there is some overlap between the two, each of them is a separate activity.

Proofreading consists of reviewing any text, either hard copy on paper or electronic copy on a computer and checking for errors. Copy editing is aimed at improving the formatting, style, and accuracy of a manuscript. Proofreading and copyediting are so closely related that the job of a proofreader slightly overlaps with that of a copyeditor. In fact, many modern proofreaders are also required to take on some light copy-editing duties, such as checking for grammars and consistency issues.

Copy editors may check consistency throughout the document, check for grammar problems, make sure page numbers are correct, check that facts are stated correctly, proof the table of contents, check the alignment of pictures and tables, and so on, depending on the requirements by the editor. These are similar to the work of a proofreader. It should be noted that editing generally is concerned with preparing a piece of writing to be published. Thus, in spite of being separate activities, editing and proofreading share a common concern: to ensure that the work to be published is free from all types of error.

Looking Generally at the Similarities and Differences between Editing and Proofreading

From the above discussion, one finds that editing and proofreading: each is a different stage along the route to publication of a manuscript. Although the editors and the proofreaders have their separate duties, as already noted, they are all concerned with achieving an error-free publication. While the similarities between editing and proofreading are more noticeable between those of the copy-editor and the proofreader, there are obvious general differences between editing and proofreading.

Generally, the work of the editor is more encompassing than that of the proofreader. As earlier noted the editor’s job (the editing process) originates with the idea for the work itself and continues in the relationship with the author, on one hand, and with the publisher, on the other hand. The scope of work of the professional editor includes: commissioning publications, reviewing manuscripts; over-seeing manuscripts through the production process – copyediting, proofreading, checking proofs – liaising with writers, publishers, printers and agents; writing blurbs, captions and press releases; and researching and organizing pictures. Conversely, the job of the professional proofreader, as earlier noted, involves minute details, such as reading and picking up the errors in the text, and taking care of the headers and footers, page numbers, etc.
Editing occupies a higher position, as it involves making important decisions such as choosing new titles for the publishing house, making important inputs that may lead to the author’s improvement of the work in terms of theme, character development, etc. On the other hand, proofreading typically involves much the same correction as a secondary school teacher would perform on a written test. It involves simply reading the text and picking up all types of errors.

Proofreaders do not offer editing, publishing, journalistic or scripting suggestions. They are only concerned with checking and marking for correction such problems as typing mistakes, missing words, punctuations, capitalization and so forth. A proofreader needs to have a good eye for detail and be patient and very careful as he reads word-by-word and line-by-line. The editor, on the other hand, takes full responsibility for the entire work from the planning to the final stage of publication. He makes sure that the work is done in the manner that meets the requirements of the publisher, the author and the reader.

From the foregoing discussion, it is quite evident that editing and proofreading are both important stages in the publishing process. Although the two are closely related, with some considerable overlap existing between their functions, they are two separate activities and differ in their functions and responsibilities. On the whole, editing and proofreading generally share some common concern and are both indispensable for ensuring a successful, error-free publication.

Article Written By Abugu Benjamin

An English Language Graduate of Lagos State University, he is the author of many books and educational materials used in schools and colleges across the country.

Last updated on 28-07-2016 2K 0

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