Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

When a proofread isn't a proofread

Posted on 23rd July 2015

I work with a lot of clients outside the publishing sector and often the distinction between a copy-edit and a proofread is both unclear and also perhaps not always necessary. One key point to consider is that in publishing, a book goes through many iterations before it even lands on the copy-editor's desk. The copy-editor will then review the file and ensure queries with the author are resolved before the typesetter does their work and then the proofreader will check the final version. This is often not the case for publications outside the traditional publishing realm, which is why I thought I'd write this blog to try and demystify the terms and clarify what exactly is included (or not).

NB: This doesn't relate to work for students submitting work for assessment as my remit is very limited for that and is already (hopefully) clear on my Academic Services page.


Rather than looking at definitions, in real terms for my non-publishing clients, copy-editing includes changes to the wording, including stylistic amendments and to avoid repetition or contentious language, implementing consistency across the file (including localising by converting to US or UK English if required) and ensuring a style guide is followed (or creating one if necessary), correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation, querying facts or details that seem incorrect, checking links and cross-references to named sections, and generally helping to make sure the file is fit for purpose. This isn't an exhaustive list and minor structure changes may be made but my service does not involve writing from scratch or in-depth restructuring or research/fact-checking.

If time and budget allow, there would be a proofread stage after the client has gone through the file to make sure the amendments and queries have been implemented and that no new issues have cropped up.


In traditional publishing, especially before recent advances in technology, every change made at the proofreading stage cost money so proofreaders only made essential amendments. In reality, the nature of online workflows and epublications means those costs are no longer that relevant, but there comes a time when a file needs to be considered complete.

When you request a proofread, ideally I would therefore be working on the final draft and would largely just focus on spelling, grammar, punctuation and format. In an ideal world, it would already be internally consistent in line with the style guide or personal preferences and be fully formatted, and though I may have to make a few tweaks here and there, I wouldn't be implementing style or format from scratch. Assuming the file is formatted, this stage would include checking page numbering and cross-references and that the contents match the page numbers, which isn't always possible at the copy-editing stage as the text isn't always collated. Once I return the file and you have accepted/rejected the changes, it's best not to tweak the file or start changing the content again. If you do, it might be necessary to get the work proofread again.


This is the term used where the work requires a mix of the above, usually where the file is formatted but needs a heavier touch than just essential changes and usually where time and/or budget means there will only be one stage for the process.

A service by any other name...

So, if you'd rather get in touch and just ask for my help in 'finalising a file', or helping you get something 'ready for publication', or whatever terminology suits you, that's fine by me. I'll take a look at the sample and we can discuss what you want me to work on, especially if there are certain things for me to focus on, and the quote, the time required and the work will then be specific to you and your project.

Written by Kate Haigh.