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How are proofreading, copyediting and copywriting different? If you’re hiring someone to help you with the words in your marketing, you need to know what each of these services is – so you can be sure you get what you pay for.

One way to explain the difference is to ask what value each service delivers to the client.

Let’s start with proofreading

A proofreader addresses the question, ‘Is this writing technically correct?’

So they look at

  • spelling
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • consistency of formatting

Let’s assume we all understand why grammar and spelling matter. Punctuation is interesting – did you know that fewer people can punctuate correctly punctuation than can spell properly? Yet punctuation can make all the difference. Look at these two sentences:

Image of an independent woman vs a woman dependent to a man. Showing the importance of proofreading punctuation among the words - Woman, without her man, is nothing. Woman; without her, man is nothing.

Woman, without her man, is nothing.

Woman; without her, man is nothing.

As for consistency of formatting – sometimes there’s more than one ‘correct’ option, but if you want your writing to look professional, you need to pick one option and stick to it. For example:

  • Is it ‘organise’ or ‘organize’? (Both are accepted in Australian English.)
  • Do you use ‘copy edit’ or ‘copyedit’?
  • Is it ‘ebook’ or ‘e-book’ or ‘Ebook’ or ‘E-book’?
  • Do you write titles in sentence case? Or Do You Write Them In Title Case?

Proofreaders (and copy editors, and copywriters) usually use one or more of the popular style guides. The most well known are The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook – both American. In the UK The Oxford Style Guide (also known as Hart’s Rules) is popular. Here in Australia The Australian Style Guide is available online for free, though you have to register.

What about copyediting?

Copy editors ask a different question: ‘Does this writing flow smoothly and clearly?

All the proofreader’s concerns about grammar, spelling and punctuation are just as relevant here. Errors can trip readers up. But the copy editor also considers the way words are used. Ambiguity, complex sentences, transitions between sentences and so on.

Still not sure about proofreading vs copyediting? Here’s an example to show the difference.

example of text showing original, then a version with proofreading highlights in yellow, then a version with more extensive copywriting changes highlighted in yellow

It’s a little difficult to follow with all the markup, but look at the different changes to the last sentence. The proofreader makes it grammatically correct, but the copy editor breaks it into separate sentences for separate ideas.

Unless you’re really confident that your writing is clear and easy to follow, I’d always recommend copyediting rather than proofreading.

Note also that writing is not like maths. There isn’t always one correct answer. You may not like some edits your copy editor makes. That’s fine. Talk about it. Work out something you can both agree is clear and suitable.

What about copywriting vs copyediting?

Copywriting is a whole new ballgame.

The most obvious difference is that for a copywriter, you don’t have to provide the first draft. You will need to provide a brief, either written or verbal, but it’s up to the copywriter to write.

There’s a less obvious difference too, but it’s just as important. A copywriter should go beyond grammatically correct, smoothly flowing text. They should produce writing which drives readers to take action.

Is your copywriter doing a good job?

If you’re reviewing something a copywriter wrote for you, the key question to ask is, ‘Does this writing push the reader to do something?

There are a whole range of related questions you can ask:

  • Does it pull the reader in?
    Titles, headings and first sentences matter! The very first thing a piece of writing has to do it get you to start reading.An attention pulling advertisement depicted through a woman's mouth shaped like a tunnel
  • Does it promise some kind of benefit?
    There has to be a reason it’s worth you doing whatever the writer (and their client) want you to do. This reason can be need – get life insurance to protect your family – or greed – go on a fabulous holiday. But there has to be some reason for you to act.
  • Does it paint a picture? Can you see your family, grieving for you, losing their home, on the streets and hungry? Can you feel the luxury of that hotel massage, taste the gourmet cuisine, imagine the laughter and fun of the water slide? Pictures, either positive or negative, trigger your emotions.
  • What proof is there that you can trust the promise? If you don’t trust, then you won’t act. Simple as that. Proof can be anything from testimonials, reviews and case studies to qualifications and industry memberships. Statistics and research reports. Before and after photos. Media mentions. Awards. An image of NoBull Marketing Voice to blog growth chart showcasing the increase of we visitors, proof that is has pulled readers in
  • Finally, is there a push to act? We usually refer to this as the call to action. Online, it’s often a big button saying ‘Buy now!‘ or ‘Book now!‘ Or it could be a form or a link to the contact page. Offline, it could be a form, or a QR code, or a phone number in huge type.
    Woman directing man while pushing a shopping cart

If your copywriter’s providing all this, they’re doing a good job.

This is also why business copywriting is usually more expensive than copyediting or proofreading.

So what writing service do you most need?

Now you’re clear on the difference, you can decide what you want.

What do I do at NoBull Marketing? The focus is copywriting. My clients are mostly smart, educated, savvy people. They can express themselves clearly, and they know how to use a spellchecker, or Grammarly.  But grabbing the reader’s attention, then painting a picture which persuades them to act is much harder. That’s what I do. It’s about making the words work harder.

I also do some copyediting.

I don’t offer proofreading. Whenever I start proofreading, I also start copyediting – because if I’m going to spend time working on someone else’s writing, I want to make it shine. Just the way I want everything I write to shine.

So if you want the words in your marketing to work harder, let’s talk about how I can do that for you.


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