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Editors, Copyeditors, Proofreaders–Whose Job Is It?

The other day a client emailed to tell me she had seen me quoted in an online newsletter. Always thoughtful, she sent me the link to the article.

I excitedly clicked the link (it is still exciting to be quoted). But my excitement withered when, seeing the article, I realized my name was misspelled–twice–and the name of this blog was wrong. 

I wrote to the newsletter editor asking that the errors be fixed. When she wrote back to apologize, she said, "Our newsletter goes through a rigorous editing cycle with numerous editors, copyeditors, and proofers looking at each issue. Unfortunately, the misspellings somehow slipped through."

How can a misspelled name and an incorrect blog name get past "numerous" people? I am guessing the problem is that the editorial team doesn't have a clear sense of who does what. Numerous people should not be checking for facts such as correct names and their proper spelling. Only one person should.

Here is my view of the roles of editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, based on my experience:

Editors look at the big picture. They should be asking questions like these:

  • Do we have the right articles in this issue? Are they timely, fresh, and complementary? Do they offer value to our readers? Do they support our mission and goals?

Copyeditors make sure all content is clear, concise, and accurate. They edit pieces to make them more enjoyable to read. They cut extra words and unnecessary content. And they do their best to make sure the content in each piece is accurate.

In the name of accuracy, the copyeditor of the article that quoted me should have gone online to verify the correct spelling of my name. He or she would have found easily that "Johnson" is wrong when Google asked "Do you mean 'Lynn Gaertner-Johnston'?" or when Bing offered two versions.

Then the copyeditor could have searched to confirm that "Better Writing" was the name of my blog. It would be simple to recognize that as an error and learn that "Business Writing" is the correct name.

Proofreaders do a final check to see that everything is correct. They do not edit–they check for correctness.

Proofreaders ensure that all the copyeditors' changes make it to the final version. They are also the backup people for any errors the copyeditors may have overlooked–errors in grammar, usage, capitalization, etc. And they check the final layout for consistency, correct pagination, headers, captions, and other aspects. Proofreaders catch spelling errors too, but it is not their job to look up proper names to confirm them–unless the editor has assigned that job to them.

Of the "numerous editors, copyeditors, and proofers" who missed the misspelling of my name and misstatement of my blog's name, the editors are innocent. It isn't their responsibility to check, but they must know who is checking. Fact checking is typically part of the copyeditors' role.  And the proofreaders need to check with the copyeditors to be sure such details have been verified.

No, perfection is not an option. But when the editorial team knows what everyone's job is, near-perfection is possible.  

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Editors, Copyeditors, Proofreaders–Whose Job Is It?”

  • I always check correct spelling of names, especially of people and anything that is important to them – that is really a very basic editing procedure. Odd that a professional publication would neglect that.

  • Hi, Yoav. I find it odd too that a basic step was neglected.

    My guess is that the writer told someone she had checked the names when she only thought she had. But the copyeditor should have spent a few seconds online verifying the spelling and blog name.


  • When did the word “misspelling” first come into use? It seems to me this is merely a convenient euphemism for covering up an error. The editor should just have admitted she spelt Lynn’s name incorrectly!

  • Hi, Liz. I think “misspelling” is the perfect word for her admission, since it means “the act or instance of misspelling” or “a word spelled incorrectly.”

    Why do you object to it?


  • Hi Lynn,
    “Misspelling” to me is rather like the word “misspoke”, which I dislike too, perhaps this is just a transatlantic difference of taste!


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