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Wondering about the difference between an editor vs. proofreader?

There is some overlap in what an editor does and what a proofreader does, but they’re not the same thing—and understanding the distinction is important, especially if you want to pursue one of these jobs.

Keep reading for a quick look at the difference between editor and proofreader, including what each of these individuals does and how their roles compare to each other.

What Is an Editor?

First up: What does an editor do?

An editor’s role is multifaceted, since their ultimate goal is to ensure that a piece of writing is as effective and targeted to its purposes as possible. This requires careful oversight that goes beyond simple spelling and punctuation.

An editor looks at a piece as a whole, evaluating everything from word choices and sentence structures to tone and use of source material to verify that the writer has done what they set out to do. Depending on the size of the publication, an editor may also serve as a proofreader, but not always.

At the end of the day, editors are the people tasked with making sure that every aspect of content creation hits the right notes for the publication or organization they’re working for—a big job with a lot of moving parts. Often, an editor’s job requires strategic tasks in addition to technical ones, including coming up with content ideas, organizing the content calendar, and collaborating with designers and writers.

Editor Tasks

Here are some of the major tasks that an editor might perform:

  • Assigning content to writers
  • Overseeing content quality
  • Clarifying language and ideas
  • Fact checking
  • Checking for (and removing) errors and inconsistencies
  • Ensuring proper word flow
  • Modifying tone for consistency and impact
  • Managing graphics and layout alongside art director and/or designers

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What Is a Proofreader?

So then, what does a proofreader do?

A big difference when you’re comparing editor vs. proofreader is that a proofreader has a much narrower set of tasks than an editor. A proofreader’s job is entirely focused on the superficial aspects of a piece of writing—namely its spelling, grammar, and punctuation. They bring to the table an expert-level understanding of the structural elements of writing, in turn helping keep content clean and comprehensible from the first word to the last.

While they might not serve a huge role, proofreaders do serve an important one. Even something as small as a misplaced comma can take away from the legitimacy of a piece of writing, so publishers rely on proofreaders to make sure that their content is of the highest quality possible.

As noted above, this job is sometimes under the purview of an editor, though many publications do hire standalone proofreaders.

Proofreader Tasks

Here are some of the major tasks that a proofreader might perform:

  • Spelling and grammar checks
  • Plagiarism checks
  • Verifying that a piece of writing meets all of a publication’s style guidelines
  • Verifying that a piece of writing adheres to a publication’s desired tone
  • Checking that all links are functional in a digital piece of content

What Comes First: Proofreading or Editing?

In most cases, editing will take place first and account for a majority of the work that’s done to a piece. After that, proofreading will be done to clean up the final copy as necessary. By going in this order, publications save time by ensuring that all of the developmental aspects of a piece of content are in place before a proofreader comes in and polishes up the structural aspects.

How Much Do Proofreaders and Editors Make?

The median salary for a proofreader is $53,702, while the median salary for an editor is $71,730. Both jobs require skills, but because an editor commands more responsibility, they make more for their work.

Which Career Is Right for You?

If you’re interested in pursuing one of these careers and aren’t sure which is right for you, take into consideration the salary potential as well as how much work you will be required to do. Keep in mind, too, that many people with these jobs work on a freelance basis and make an income by the hour instead of with an annual salary. That means there’s plenty of potential to make more than what’s listed above—and to diversify your skill set and offer additional services. 

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