“Let’s eat children!”
That enthusiastic exclamation in support of cannibalism is—shall we say—unfortunate. A missing comma is all it takes to change the meaning of a sentence. (Unless the writer did intend to exclaim what is written, in which case. . . no thanks, I’ll pass.)
A thorough copyedit is meant to ensure that errors of the above nature don’t see the light of day. Copyeditors are the word nerds who make those weird squiggly marks all over the page. We check for correct usage of grammar, spelling, and punctuation (and adhere to whatever your standard is for the serial comma, no matter what our convictions may be). We check that your reference to Figure 2 makes sense and that your abbreviations are consistent throughout. And then we make sure you have all the necessary parts for the front matter (e.g., table of contents, summary, preface) and back matter (e.g., appendices, references, glossary).
After your words are scrubbed and polished, a proofread is the final check before your document is signed, sealed, delivered. By the time your document lands in the proofreader’s realm, the goal is correction, not revision. Double words, missing words, misspellings of common words, bad hyphen breaks, widows and orphans, rivers and ladders… these are the domain of the proofreader. Basically, any of those pesky leftover errors that are desperately hanging on, hoping to make a mockery out of you when your readers are left wondering why it says Vienna on the cover, but Venice in the body text. Ouch.
Illustration by Melanie Luther