The Way We Work
February 1, 2010 by Amanda Foley

Updated: April 11, 2014

When hiring a freelance writer or editor, it’s important that both you and the freelancer have the right expectations. Are you certain you know what it is you need help with?

Editing, proofreading (also called “proofing”) and copyediting are often assumed to be the same thing — but they’re not. Are you looking for someone to improve the style and flow of your writing, or do you simply want someone to ensure that your commas are in the right places?

In publishing, it’s typically understood that a document that has been edited will still need to be proofed. An editor is often hired for their individual style or specialization in a particular subject area, but if you’re looking for someone to go through a text with a fine-tooth comb, you need to find a proofreader or copyeditor.

To help clarify things, we’ve created this helpful guide to explain the differences between these three skills.


When hiring a freelance editor, you’re hiring someone to review and change your text with the intent to improve the flow and overall quality of your writing.  An editor has the freedom to remove entire sentences or rewrite entire paragraphs. A good editor will correct any obvious errors they come across, but their main goal is to use their expertise and intuition to ensure the document makes sense, cut down on wordiness, and clarify any ambiguity.


Proofreading is the process of examining the final draft of a document or text — after it has been edited — to ensure there are absolutely no errors. A proofreader will review for spelling errors, punctuation errors, typos or incorrect use of regional English (i.e. ensuring that you’re using American English or British English when necessary).

For important proofreading, you will want to hire an experienced freelancer with the the ability to find even the smallest grammatical errors that others might normally dismiss. Hiring a proofreader is particularly helpful if you’re not confident in your writing, or if English is not your first language.

While proofreading can be done electronically — for example, using track changes in Microsoft Word — it is just as often done on a printed version (also referred to as a “hard copy”) or PDF. In this case, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with proofreaders’ marks, a collection of symbols and shorthand to indicate corrections. (Rest assured: professional graphic designers will also understand these marks!)


To “copyedit” a document is to proofread it — with the added expectation of ensuring style consistency with other content from the company or publication. Copyediting is also known as “sub-editing” in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

When looking for a freelance copyeditor, ensure they have the talented eye of a proofreader as well as additional expertise in matters of different styles of writing.  Some measures of consistency include making sure names, locations and dates are always treated the same way. A copyeditor will also have expert knowledge of different style guides and may also perform fact-checking or have specialized knowledge in a particular field. As such, a great copyeditor may cost a bit more than a proofreader.

In summary:

An editor

  • Rewrites sentences and paragraphs for flow
  • Makes the text clearer and more understandable
  • Uses their specialized knowledge to clarify and improve text

A proofreader

  • Goes beyond “spellcheck” to catch errors a computer might miss
  • Ensures zero grammatical errors, usually after a document has already been edited

 A copyeditor (or “sub-editor”)

  • Proofreads, with an added expertise in ensuring style consistency appropriate to a publication or organization

Now that you know what each type of professional does, you can find someone who will do a great job for you.

Amanda Foley

Contributing Author

Amanda Foley is a community manager at Government Digital Services in the UK, as well as a freelance writer and strategist for tech startups. Previously, Amanda was a marketing associate for, UK community manager for and Community Manager at TechHub London. She likes strong coffee, stand-up comedy and science fiction.