Copyeditor, Copywriter, Proofreader . . . What’s the Difference?

Clearing up the confusion.

Is there are difference between the roles of a copyeditor, a copywriter, and a proofreader? Or are they simply different words for the same thing?


Ben Franklin, Copyeditor

Let’s begin with definitions. A copyeditor[1] takes text (or copy) that someone else has written and ensures it is clear, coherent, consistent, and correct, all for the purpose of effective communication. I’ve heard it rumored that business owners place a high premium on effective communication. If they write anything for current and prospective customers and clients—flyers, website text, correspondence, and so forth—they should care about stuff like that. If they don’t know why they should care, have them contact me and I’ll be happy to explain it over a cup of coffee.


A second term that needs clarification is copywriter (or copy writer, if you prefer). A copywriter is someone who writes copy (imagine that!), usually for advertising, marketing, or public relations purposes. A copyeditor is not a copywriter, but the two are frequently confused. Both live in the world of words and writing, but their tasks are significantly different. Think of the second part of each compound: the copywriter writes and the copyeditor edits what’s written. This is so simple a five-year-old child could understand it. (Someone, please find me a five-year-old child. I can’t make heads or tails of it.)


Another term often confused with copyeditor is proofreader. People who know that I’m a grammar nerd who does something with writing will sometimes ask me to “proofread” their documents. Now, don’t misunderstand, I do proofread documents all the time, and do so gladly. But copyediting and proofreading are different functions—similar in that they both deal with reviewing others’ writing, but different in the scope of their tasks. To put it simply, a copyeditor takes a document draft and makes it shine; a proofreader takes the copyedited final draft and makes sure no typos or “dummos” (a term a professor friend of mine used to use) were missed in the copyediting stage.

That’s an oversimplification of these related but different tasks, but it captures the essence. Δ

[1] The tendency in the evolution of language is for open compound words (like copy edit) to become hyphenated over time (copy-edit) and finally closed (copyedit). Most authorities today prefer the closed compounds copyedit and copyeditor. Since I cut my copyediting teeth on the closed compound, that’s what I prefer to use and I’m going to stick with it.

© 2016 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.


Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, baseball bug, word lover, book hound, guitar picker, classical music aficionado, classic rock 'n' roll and movie buff, sinner, saint, former this, used-to-be that, and future who-knows-what. Every day is an adventure in learning how to make the world a better place--grammatically, anyway.

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