Copywriting and copy editing · Powerful Words · Website content design and optimisation

The difference between proofreading, editing and writing copy

Proofreading, editing and copywriting are activities that often get confused, hence terms that often get used interchangeably, so to help you determine which level of copy and content checking, fixing and crafting is right for your project, here’s an overview.


Proofreading is the quality assurance of the final draft, or the proof, of a print publication, document, website or any other communications material before release or go-live. It covers:

  • Identifying typos and essential errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Ensuring consistency of styles and elements such as paragraphs, line spacing and fonts.
  • Checking numbering and formatting of captions, references, citations and table of contents. (not included: checking the accuracy or getting permission for quoted content or citations)
  • Testing links and functionality, mainly for online content.
  • General minor sense checking. (not included: re-wording or structural adjustments to improve flow or readability)

Editing is about improving a draft version of a text publication, whether for print or online and getting it ready for proofreading (the final stage before publication). It covers:

  • Ensuring quality in spelling, grammar, punctuation as well as (for online content) functionality and linking.
  • Applying consistent tone of voice, style and formatting as per your house style. (not included: creating a style or tone of voice guide)
  • Numbering and formatting of captions, references, citations and table of contents, including fact integrity and online research.
  • Suggesting adjustments to sentence structure and flow, and questioning intended impact (or also legal issues where recognised) to assure general readability, clarity and impact. (not included: developing or planning content)
Developmental editing and web content flow editing

Developmental editing is also referred to as substantive or structural editing – takes the editing process a step further to include checking and adjusting the logical flow and overall cohesion of a text. Particularly when it comes to websites there are multiple parts and pages that need to come together and form what is called the user-experience or journey (which ultimately leads the users to take action; and search engines to take notice).

This process often involves moving content sections around, rewriting portions of content, or also re-confirming and clarifying strategic objectives of the content, which can sometimes even lead to a deeper soul-searching journey and effectively turn into writing from scratch.

Copywriting and website content journey design

The dictionary states: ‘Copywriting is the activity or occupation of writing the text of advertisements or publicity material.’

I would add that, contrary to editing and proofreading, copywriting relates to crafting words for something from scratch. I think it’s an important distinction as it means that a clear brief and a compelling, strategic purpose are essential. The copywriting process usually includes:

  • Clarifying the strategic core (what it is about, who is it for, what is it to achieve and why, how is it different/unique) of a given piece. Typically, briefs are provided by the client, however, the copywriter can also help by asking the right questions. (not included: overall content strategy)
  • Researching the respective subject matter and keywords as well as the client’s website and any other information that can aid familiarity with the client’s product and organisation.
  • Writing relevant, targeted, simple, consistent copy and in the client’s tone of voice, so that both, users and search engines, may easily find, digest and take action on desired goals. (not included: creating a tone of voice guide)
  • Organising content strategically and formatting it consistently, again in order to aid readability and accessibility for both, users and search engines. (not included: creating a style guide)

“Good writing isn’t about spelling or grammar, its about structured thinking.” ~ Angus Montgomery

 “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~ Hans Hofmann

“Writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.” ~Ann Handley

Need help with your brand, marketing and website words?

I combine brand and content strategy, content writing and copy editing, and particular website expertise as well as a general passion for content quality – whether online or offline – to make brand propositions and stories, web pages and blogs, marketing and print materials, business documents and everything and anything that relies on words to connect, engage and win over an audience, more powerful. If your words need more power, please get in touch!

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