I’ve never really thought too much about the difference, but here’s a post at Jane Friedman’s blog: The Differences Between Line Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading
Okay, fine, I’m curious. I’m running through The Sphere of the Winds right now, doing one or the other or all three of these things. It’s been so long since I read through this manuscript that I’ve actually been surprised by a couple of scenes. But I don’t know what I’d call what I’m doing, other than reading through it and smoothing it out. I can’t really call it proofreading — well, I CAN, but I know perfectly well I will be missing some egregious, idiotic typos because I ALWAYS DO. I expect this post is going to mention “proofreading is meant to catch idiotic typos,” because that’s certainly how I think of it.
Now that I’m looking at these three terms all together like this, I feel like they should mean something like this:
a) line editing is about correcting awkwardness and improving the style of a sentence and maybe the flow of a paragraph, plus typos.
b) copy editing looks for errors of fact (the animal you are describing is NOT a mink), continuity errors within the manuscript, and things like a character standing up twice in one paragraph, plus typos.
c) proofreading looks for actual typos and that’s it.
I’m doing all of that. I wonder if this is close to the distinctions the article is going to make. Let’s see …
What to Expect with a Line Edit
In a line edit, an editor examines every word and every sentence and every paragraph and every section and every chapter and the entirety of your written manuscript. Typos, wrong words, misspellings, double words, punctuation, run-on sentences, long paragraphs … everything is scrutinized, corrected, tracked, and commented on. Facts are checked, name spellings of people and places are confirmed. This is the type of edit I perform most often.
So the author of this post is an editor, and she considers that a line edit combines all three of the components of editing I split out above. She doesn’t mention style and awkward phrasing, but I bet that is included because this seems quite complete. In fact, from the further comments about this kind of editing, it looks like it can overlap quite a bit with a developmental edit. That is the top-level editing when the editor suggests cutting chapter eight entirely or other big things like that. This editor seems to include even stuff like that in “line editing.”
Oh, interesting — the author of this post, who is Sandra Wendel by the way, also shows a paragraph before and after line editing. Wow, the first version of the paragraph is pretty terrible. I hope that most of the time, line editors do not have to work with writing as bad as that. The first version is so bad, I’m not sure the example is fair.
But moving on:
Yes, a copy edit looks pretty much like I thought. Typos and cleaning up formatting and noting when the character’s name is spelled differently three times in the book and so on and so forth. Wendel does also say “streamlining punctuation.” That apparently includes removing exclamation points and things. Hah, she says she allows five exclamation points per manuscript! That’s funny. I have a lot more than that in some manuscripts. It depends. Natividad is an exclamation-pointy kind of girl. Also, I can tell you, when people are flying and calling to each other across a distance, they do it with a lot of exclamation points. Especially if they’re also tired. I can’t think of any other realistic way to manage dialogue when people are in that situation. It would be the same if people were calling to each other from the backs of galloping horses. You can’t use periods in a situation like that! People have to raise their voices and shout! Or at least, that’s how I’m doing it.
Okay, but I will say, all this stuff with punctuation would fall between smoothing out awkwardness and fixing actual typos, probably. There is a little more here than JUST catching typos. That part must be what is meant by proofreading alone. Let’s see …
This person [the proofreader] brings a fresh set of eyes to the work and scours for absolute error such as name misspellings … double words, missing words, and those crazy stupid errors you as the author have missed and your editor missed, and you question your sanity. Those errors.
Ah, yes, THOSE errors. Yes, that is exactly what I think of as proofreading. Oh, Wendel includes reading through the print version (or a pdf) for things like widows and orphans and “hyphen stacks” — great phrase — and so on and so forth. Yes, that’s such a pain in the neck! I personally split that off from actual proofreading because (as you know) I ask some of you to proofread for me, but I skim through the print version myself looking for these formatting issues.
The post finishes up:
As Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer said in his exceptionally fascinating book, Dreyer’s English, “My job is to lay my hands on that piece of writing and make it … better. Cleaner. Clearer. More efficient. Not to rewrite it … but to burnish and polish it and make it the best possible version of itself that it can be.”
I like that! Burnished and polished, yep, that’s the ideal.