What Now? The Difference Between Proofreading, Copyediting and Post-editing

Your summer intern with excellent English, Chet Gippitti, just wrote his first blog. Yay! Let's upload it and look at all the business coming in. But wait. What if there are typos? And missing commas. No worries, Laura has the free version of Grammarly. Then you finally see it on the web. But it's difficult to read, there are logical errors and you got lost in the third paragraph. You start typing your e-mail to Translata... Hold up, what is it that you need? Just proofreading? But you need it to be in line with your style guide and target audience? That's something else then... Feeling confused? No worries. Learn all about the services that come into play when you need to go from intern-level, ChatGPT mumble-jumble to clear, concise and compelling message.

Stuck between proofreading, copyediting and post-editing? Choosing the right service is what separates a text chock full of typos, a polished article that hits home and a bungled blob of legal terms.

Think about it – poor copy or a book manuscript could take you days, even months to edit and re-write. If you’re under a tight deadline, post-editing of a contract well-suited for machine translation may be the best way to cut costs and deliver within 24 hours. And proofreading may only take you an hour or so – depending on the quality.

So, what’s the difference? And which service should you ask for?

Whether you’re an ad agency looking to hit the mark with your latest campaign or a construction company that needs documents in five languages for the archives, you need to pick the right service.

Consider this your guide – pull it up whenever you’re about to write that e-mail to your translation provider and you can’t decide whether to go with proofreading, copyediting or post-editing.

Get ready to do some detective work, focus on details that matter, search for the magic bullet and find the best service for your needs.

Spot the difference

And it’s easy! While proofreading and copyediting start with a human output, post-editing starts with a raw machine translation or AI-generated text.

Proofreading means checking for typos, spelling and punctuation mistakes. In the world of localization, proofreading stage comes after translation. Translations are proofed by native speakers of the target language, and there’s no requirement for them to speak or understand the original. The sole focus of proofreading is to deliver error-free, target-language text.

Copyediting is far more intricate than proofreading. A copyeditor does all the work of a proofreader, but they also check for style, plot holes and logical gaps in the text. While a proofreader might add a missing comma here and there, a copyeditor might rewrite entire sentences or paragraphs. When it comes to localization and copyediting in multiple languages, understanding the source language is a must.

Post-editing refers to machine translation post-editing or MTPE. While often overlooked, this service is completely different from the previous two. Why? Proofreaders and copyeditors work with human output. Post-editors come in after you upload your document to Google Translate, DeepL or our online translator. They check the raw machine translation and align it with the source, ensure suitable style and aim to preserve the meaning of the original.

Let’s start with us – humans. Copyediting and proofreading both work with human output, and we’ll help you decide which is best for the text you’re about to send over.

Copyediting vs. Proofreading

Copyediting and proofreading are the two services you need to finalize your drafts, manuscripts and translations. Copyediting comes first – it’s the deep dive into the style, meaning and flow of your text. Up next is proofreading, the final polish, a surface-level check for errors and typos.

Let’s look at each service, so you can decide whether you need to dive deep or make the final sweep.

Copyediting: Detective work

Copyediting usually comes before proofreading, and it’s more extensive. While proofreaders focus on the surface-level issues, copyeditors go deeper to align the context, style and narrative of your text.

The copyeditor must often journey deep into your manuscript’s core and analyze everything from your choice of words and phrases to the plot layers and intended message. The same goes for marcom messages and campaigns – the copyeditor must be in tune with your tone of voice, brand image and the desired effect.

The copyeditor is like your text detective – Horatio Caine – head tilted, with the x-ray glasses on, looking closely at each sentence and paragraph. And he’s after these perps:

The Horatios of our world read along looking for clues and evidence, making sure the puzzle makes sense and forms a meaningful mosaic.

This in-depth examination improves the flow and structure of your text, keeping the readers engaged from the headline to the last full stop. Your story may come in the form of a book, an ad, a blog post, social media post, a sales e-mail sequence, or any piece of content with the goal to engage, sell, bring in customers or increase revenue.

Here are some of the questions a copyeditor addresses:

So, the next time you find yourself reading a sentence and feel a sudden twitch… Like a spidey sense going off because something’s wrong – even though there are no glaring grammatical mistakes – copyediting might be the hidden tool in the shed that you need to put that feeling to rest.

From Good to Great

Don’t we have enough services already? And… Have you seen the bullet points? Six bullet points, each with two questions… That’s almost twelve things a copyeditor must focus on while reading your text. Every paragraph. Every word. Every sentence.

Copyediting may seem like a tedious process, but it's the mojo that'll get you engaging content that converts and takes your clients on a journey from consideration to purchase.

Effective copyediting isn’t only about accuracy. It makes your words easier to read, with your target audience in mind. The goal isn’t to confuse anyone but to naturally direct their gaze and mind to the next sentence.

It’s what gets you from good to great. Or even from garbage to great. And it’s the reason why your readers say ‘Yeah!’ instead of ‘Meh…’ after the first read.

Ever felt like there’s something wrong with your tagline? Your slogan? Hook? Or a part of your CTA? That the intended message is buried deeper than it should be? That you need to approach the reader with the same idea, but in a completely different style and wording?

Proofreading won’t get you there. It might make the ‘good’ a ‘good’ without typos. But that’s still ‘just good’, right?

What you need is a professional in the world of advertising, copywriting and editing to bring out the essence of your message and make it shine. Free it of all the fluff and present it for the world to see.

Copyediting makes the message and purpose clear so your readers can act.


Isn’t copyediting subjective? And can you trust freelancers?

When it comes to novels, communication between the copyeditor and the author is invaluable. With ad copy, most agencies and companies don’t have time to go into too much detail and through multiple rounds of revisions. That’s what a good creative brief is for – the copy editor’s guide to the client’s mind.

But even armed with a great brief, you may find yourself facing multiple dilemmas: Should you use em-dashes or en-dashes? With or without spaces? Do you put punctuation inside or outside the quotation marks? And so on and so forth…

To get from good to great, we need style guides.

Style Guides

A style guide is a set of standards for writing and editing content. It ensures uniformity and consistency in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and formatting. Among the widely accepted style guides for editing, proofreading and copyediting are ‘The Chicago Manual of Style’ or ‘APA Style.’

These tell us, for example, whether to put punctuation inside quotation marks or outside; whether to use spaces around em-dashes; whether to use a space after an ellipsis…

Armed with style guides, you can be sure your text is perfect and ready for you to hit Publish. Getting the formal side of things right, though, is only the first step to success.

Increase Engagement with Copyediting

While proofreading is the finishing touch – like dusting off a mantlepiece, copyediting involves the earlier heavy lifting. And if you can make your message stand out, make it concise and compelling, you’ve struck gold.

Deep work begins when you start aligning the text with your target audience and lead them to action. You’re trying to persuade and compel the occasional link-clickers and scroll-and-runners to read on. The next line. And the next line… Like breadcrumbs. All the way to your offer and CTA where you make the sale.

Because copy without sales is just…well, a nice essay.

So no, copyeditors don’t just find synonyms and add and delete stuff. They’re not glorified spellcheckers. Or more expensive ChatGPT or Grammarly subscriptions. Copyediting is a game of psychology, linguistics, style and perseverance.

And the result?

But every copyeditor has his days, and especially when diving deep, the surface may be left untended – punctuation, spelling, grammar, commas or date formats. The ‘details’ – as some of you may call them.

And that’s a cue for proofreaders to smooth things over.

Proofreading: Details that matter

Proofreading is the final review step before we publish or send you the text. So, what does a proofreader do, and how do you benefit? Proofed text is clean of typos, spelling slip-ups and punctuation mistakes – spotless and ready for its public debut.

That’s why we always recommend localized translation (or TEP) – a service that includes proofreading at the final stage – whenever your texts are going to be presented publicly on banners, a slide deck or in materials for printing.

Proofreaders focus on everything from an overlooked semi-colon to differences in spelling between the American and British English. They make sure your sentences are in line with your requirements and all the guidelines for proper grammar and syntax. Nothing should escape the proofreader’s laser-focused eyes.

Here are some of the questions proofreaders focus on:

You could argue that Word or Grammarly might do the trick. Or ChatGPT with your expert prompting. I wouldn’t bet on it. Proofreaders with decades of experience have developed an uncanny feel for the language, and their expertise is just what you might need…

Why Do You Need Proofreading?

Proofreading is the last step that separates 4th-grade level content from a high-quality, professional text for your target audience. The process demands attention to detail, grammar and linguistic nuances. It helps keep your credibility and reputation intact, so you won’t have to deal with a public backlash to your ad campaign, blog post or book.

When you’re reading and your eyes continuously trip over mistakes and typos, it distracts you from the message and your mind starts to wander:

These are all questions that your readers may ask when reading a newsletter, e-mail, offer or memo with typos and incorrectly placed commas.

A piece of content free of errors screams professionalism and conveys attention to detail – two great predictors of a successful cooperation with any business.

Bet on Credibility with Proofreading

Effective proofreading is key to maintaining credibility and professionalism. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar or typos could hurt your reputation and undermine what you’re trying to say. And since blogs, case studies, cold e-mails or written reports are often the first point of contact in the sales process, proofreading is an opportunity to make a perfect first impression.

Just imagine that someone sends you a sales e-mail that looks like this:

Hello, John, I though we could get in touch and talk about latest outputs.

And now, what if it looked like this:

Hello John, I thought we could get in touch and talk about the latest outputs.

Which one are you more likely to read and trust? We might have a winner… And that’s the power of proofreading.

The Showdown: Proofreading vs. Copyediting

While some texts may benefit from thorough proofreading, for others it may be a waste of time and money. If you’re confident in your grammar and punctuation skills, you’ll get little to no value from professional proofreading.

If you feel like your text and words need that little something – something that you can’t quite put a finger on… But you can’t get rid of the feeling that it’s missing. A better flow and a bit of juice, better word choices and more compelling structure – that’s copyediting.

And if you’re all set with the style and flow, but you can still spot glaring mistakes here and there, and that’s what’s stopping you from publishing your next article or report… Like missing commas and incorrectly used dashes and hyphens – proofreading just might do.

We’re always happy to help you with finding the right service for your needs. Our project managers have years of experience in dealing with various types and genres of texts, and they’ll set you on the right path when choosing between the final polish and the deep dive.

We’ll also help you find the best professional for your needs and texts. With over 1,500 language professionals in our database, you can rest assured your manuscripts, e-mails, ad copy or contracts are in good hands.

Picking the Right Service

Choosing between proofreading and copyediting is a common dilemma faced by many companies and clients. To make it easier for you, here are some key situations when you’ll clearly see the benefits of choosing one or the other.

When to Choose Proofreading

A simple rule of thumb would be to go with proofreading when you’re satisfied with the overall quality and style of your text.

You’ve already worked out the structure, tone and content. What proofreading focuses on is the small mistakes that can tarnish the credibility of your work.

When to Choose Copyediting

Choose copyediting if you need to rework awkward sentences, improve overall flow and ensure consistency in style and tone. These substantial changes lead to an overall improvement in readability and increased engagement.

By understanding the difference between proofreading and copyediting, and when to choose each, you can confidently manage the content creation process and get the most out of each piece.

Speaking of getting the most out of your language services, we would be remiss if we didn’t turn our gaze to the ‘magic bullet’ – machine translation post-editing.

Post-editing: The Magic Bullet

Post-editing has one thing in common with the previous two services – text. That’s about it.

Post-editing refers to machine translation post-editing, or MTPE. It’s the process of editing raw machine output and ensuring that the meaning, overall feel and style are aligned with the original and its purpose.

The result of post-editing should be equal to human translation made from scratch. And machine translation output is the means which should lead to increased productivity and lower effort – in client terms, lower costs and faster delivery.

After all, it seems easier to start with a pre-translated document instead of a blank page.

So, what sets post-editing apart?

Both copyeditors and proofreaders work with a text that’s been created by a human.

Post-editors try to refine a raw machine output from DeepL or Google Translate and make it seem human.

Sounds impossible? It’s a common practice for handling translations of contracts, legal documents, technical manuals, account statements, or any piece of material that isn’t meant to sell, advertise or engage clients directly.

It’s also cost-efficient and saves you a ton of time. While translation will get you the output of 2,000 words per day, with MTPE you’ll get the final version in half the time.

The trick is to align a good post-editor, suitable text and the best machine translation engine. In Translata, we’ve been doing post-editing for a while now, and have quality assurance processes and guides in place to help you increase efficiency.

Our cheat sheet for choosing the right post-editing engine is free to download. You’ll learn what are the best language combinations for machine translation and which engine to use for each of them for the best quality.

Ever needed a 4,000-word contract translated and delivered in 24 hours? Post-editing is your magic bullet in the chamber. But you need to use it wisely.

With the emergence of AI and machine translation engines, clients often seek solutions to their translation needs in the latest tech instead of the hands of experienced and skilled professionals.

But the machines are not perfect (yet), and that’s why we need human translators and post-editors.

Make sure you don’t confuse the service with proofreading. With DeepL, Google Translate and ChatGPT always at hand, clients may slip into thinking they don’t need post-editors at all. Or, even worse, they send the machine output for proofreading.

Proofreading is for smoothing over a text that’s already been professionally edited by a translator or post-editor. It’s the next step in the process. Proofreaders should never start their work with raw AI or MT output.

So now that you know everything about everything… What’s the best option?

One Service to Rule them All?

For every text there’s a purpose, and for every purpose there’s a service. So, which one should you choose?

Do you feel like your text doesn’t flow well, seems unnatural and your message is a bit weak?
Go for copyediting.

Or you don’t want to mess with the style, but you’re not confident in your spelling skills?
Choose proofreading.

About to send over a raw output from DeepL or Google Translate, or in need of a quick translation?
That’s post-editing.

Unfortunately, there’s no one service to rule them all. You need to think about your goals and choose what’s best. This article is here to help you with the decision.

Anyhow, if you still feel stuck or can’t make sense out of it all – feel free to shoot us an e-mail with your text, and our seasoned project managers will find the service that best fits your needs.

Žaneta is a cross between the iconic and stylish Jackie Kennedy and the determined and fearless Winston Churchill. Dressed to the nines, professional, and always ready to tackle a problem, delegate tasks, or help kick off Friday's work ethic. Translata's "First Lady" is the heart of the team. She helps keep us all grounded while we reach for the stars.