How to Copyedit and Proofread Written Work

Four Methods:Copyediting a DocumentProofreading a DocumentAvoiding Common MistakesEditing and Proofreading Help

Copyediting and proofreading are terms used to describe the process of examining written work for errors. Copyediting is done before proofreading and is much more in depth. A good copyedit will improve the structure and flow of the text and may involve some rewriting. Once the text has been copyedited, proofreading is done to check for spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors.

Method 1
Copyediting a Document

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    Determine the level of copyediting. There different levels (e.g. baseline, standard, and substantive) of copyediting. Lower levels of copyediting are not as thorough and take less time.[1] Standard copyediting is customary unless you have received specific instructions to do more or less.[2]
    • If you are doing a baseline edit, you will correct errors in spelling, typing grammar, punctuation, and style. Also check that capitalization and spelling is consistent throughout the article.
    • If you are doing a standard edit, you will do all of the activities in a baseline edit, check for consistent style of writing and a logical relationship between the text and any graphics. You may also do some light rewriting and remove redundant and wordy text.
    • If you are doing a substantive copyedit, you will do all of the activities included in the baseline and standard edit with more rewriting. You rewrite the text to improve the consistency, style, and flow of the text. You may rearrange sentences or reorganize paragraphs. You may also change passive voice to active voice.
  2. Image titled Copyedit and Proofread Written Work Step 2
    Read through the text without changing anything. Each manuscript is different and authors have their own unique writing style. Reading before you begin to edit will give you an idea of what the author is trying to say, which will be helpful when you begin editing. As you read through the article you can note any areas that may need more attention.[3]
    • This initial reading can also help you plan how you would like to tackle the editing process and what the specific steps will be. For example, some edits may focus more on transitioning between paragraphs and ideas while another edit may focus more on grammar and punctuation.
    • Do not make any edits during your first reading. Only focus on becoming familiar with the text.
    • Keep in mind that for short pieces, such as an article or brochure, you will be able to read through the document multiple times. However, if you are editing a longer piece, such as a novel or dissertation, then it is better to plan on only doing one read-through.
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    Read through the text from beginning to end. As you read the text this time, read with a critical eye. You are checking the overall flow and structure of the writing. Ask the following questions as you read:[4][5]
    • Is the information in a logical order?
    • Is it easy to understand the information that is being presented?
    • Are there topic specific terms and jargon?
    • Are there unanswered questions?
    • Are there run-on sentences or words that are used too much?
    • Are there smooth transitions between ideas?
    • Is the writing choppy?
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    Read the text sentence by sentence. Go back to the beginning of the text and read each sentence independently. Fix any typos, punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors that you see.[6] Do not worry about the flow of the sentences or the text as a whole. You are editing one sentence at a time.
    • It may be helpful to use a hard copy of the text and cover up the other sentences using an index card or another piece of paper. This will keep your eyes focused on one sentence at a time.[7]
    • Pay attention to the correct usage of parentheses, quotation marks, commas, semicolons, and ellipses.
    • Also look for correct usage of "their," they're," and "there" and other homonyms (i.e. words that sound the same but are spelled differently).
    • Keep a dictionary on hand when you are editing.
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    Correct formatting and style. The text may need to be written in a certain style (e.g. Chicago, AP, APA etc.) or a format depending on where it is being published. For example, if you are copyediting a manuscript for an academic journal, the journal may have specific formatting requirements. If the author is allowed to write in any style, make sure that the style is consistent throughout the text.[8]
    • Formatting and style affects many different things such as spelling (e.g. catalog vs. catalogue), margins, font, page number placement, headings and footers.
    • Style should be correctly used and consistent throughout the text.
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    Do a final read-through. When all the sentences have been edited, return to the beginning of the text and give it a final reading. Double-check your work, correcting any errors you may have missed the first time. You also want to be sure that your edits have not created additional errors in the flow and readability of the text.
    • You may also ask another person to read the text and give you another set of eyes. When the other person reads, have them mark the errors instead of automatically changing them. It is important for you to see what you missed.
    • Remember that you will probably not have time to do more than one read-through on a longer piece, so plan on being thorough with your first read-through.

Method 2
Proofreading a Document

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    Print out the document if possible. You should try to proofread a paper copy of the document instead of proofreading on a computer screen. It is easier to catch errors on paper than on a computer screen.[9] Print the paper using a larger font (e.g. 14 point) so that you can see the punctuation marks more clearly.[10]
    • Do not rely on your computer to catch all of your errors.You can use the spelling and grammar check on the computer before you proofread the document yourself.
    • You can proofread the document on your computer screen before you print it out as well.
    • For longer documents such as book-length manuscripts, you may want to ask to be provided with a paper copy or bill for the cost of printing
  2. Image titled Copyedit and Proofread Written Work Step 9
    Make a list of errors. Having a list of things to check for will help you stay organized.[11] As a proofreader, you are checking for spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, spacing, fonts, numbering, and margins.[12] You can look for one error each time you go through the document or you may try to check for multiple errors at time.
    • For example, you may focus on punctuation as you read the text the first time and check spelling the next time you go through the text.
    • If you are proofreading your own work, write down the errors that you usually make and pay special attention to them.
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    Read the document backwards. You probably won't have time to use this strategy with a long work, such as a novel or dissertation, but reading backwards might be helpful for shorter pieces. Start at the bottom of the page and read the text from right to left. Reading the paper out of context will help you identify errors. Take your time and read each word.[13]
    • Also read the paper out loud. This will force you the read more slowly and you may catch additional errors.
    • Focus on one sentence at a time. You can cover up the other sentences with a piece of paper or an index card to help you focus.[14]
    • Use a highlighter or colored pen to mark the errors that you find.
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    Read the document multiple times if time allows. Proofread the text at least twice. You can alternate reading it forwards and backwards. Also, set aside time (e.g. 20 minutes, 60 minutes, 24 hours) between each proofreading session. Viewing the text with fresh eyes will make you a more accurate proofreader.
    • Always proofread in a quiet environment when you are not distracted.
    • If there are a lot of errors, you will need to read the the text more.
    • Consider having another person proofread the text as well. If you are in school, ask a teacher or tutor proofread the text. If you are in college, your school probably has a writing center that can help you.[15][16]

Method 3
Avoiding Common Mistakes

  1. Image titled Copyedit and Proofread Written Work Step 12
    Use the "SCOPE" acronym. There are so many things to look for when you proofread a text. It can be easy to correct some errors and forget to check for others.The SCOPE acronym highlights the steps involved in proofreading. You can also use this to have a systematic approach when you proofread different documents.[17]
    • "S" stands for spelling. Always have a dictionary handy.
    • "C" stands for capitalization.
    • "O" stands for order of words.
    • "P" stands for punctuation.
    • "E" stands for express complete thought.
  2. Image titled Copyedit and Proofread Written Work Step 13
    Remember the 5 "C's" of copyediting. When you are copyediting, you are checking the text to be sure that it is clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.[18] This is much more than proofreading text. Your edits should ensure that the reader understands the text as the author intended.
    • Clear/clarity- The reader should not be confused or misunderstand any of the text.
    • Correct- Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct.
    • Concise- The text is not filled with unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences that do not add to the content or quality of the text.
    • Comprehensible- The text is not filled with abbreviations and acronyms that may not be clear to the average reader.
    • Consistent- The same style and spelling is used throughout the text. For example, the text does not switch between "five" and "5" or "color" and "colour."
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    Do not rush through the process. Copyediting and proofreading take time. It typically takes a professional copyeditor an hour to edit six pages of double-spaced text.[19] You will also need to take breaks and view the text with fresh eyes.
    • Copyediting is done before proofreading. If the text was thoroughly copyedited, proofreading should not take very long.
    • Keep the copyediting and proofreading processes separate. They have different purposes.[20]
    • If you are copyediting and proofreading your own work, finish the draft of your work early so you have plenty of time to edit. If you plan to edit someone else's work, ask them to get it to you well before their deadline so you can do a good job.

Editing and Proofreading Help

Sample Editing Tips

Sample Proofreading Symbols

Sample Editing Exercises


  • If you are proofreading your own work, you might find it beneficial to proofread it again the next day. People often read what they thought they wrote, rather than what is actually written.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Editing and Style