The Ultimate Glossary of Proofreading and Editing Terms

The Ultimate Glossary of Proofreading and Editing Terms

  • May 20, 2022
  • 10 min read

Every new skill brings with it a host of new terminology. For disciplines as complex and varied as proofreading and editing, the terminology can sometimes be overwhelming. But fear not! In today’s post, we present to you The Ultimate Glossary of Proofreading and Editing Terms.

Why Is a Proofreading and Editing Glossary Helpful?

Correct terminology is important in freelance proofreading and editing. You need to understand what a client expects when they set out the scope of a project. It’s essential to describe your services clearly and accurately. Additionally, you need to take on feedback and leave comments with a clear understanding of what is being discussed.

This doesn’t mean that you have to memorize every single term (though it can’t hurt), but it does mean you need access to a good stock of proofreading and editing terms that you can use to guide your work.

Proofreading and Editing Glossary

Back Matter

Material that appears at the end of a manuscript, after the main text.

Examples of back matter (also called end matter) vary according to the nature of the publication. Fiction and non-fiction often have slightly different back matter and can include acknowledgments, an author mini-biography, copyright permissions, reading group questions, an appendix or addendum, and a bibliography or reference list.


A list of sources consulted during the writing of a book or article.

Block Quote

A longer quotation, typically 40 words or more, set apart from the main body of the text.

Body Text

The main part of a book, set between the front matter and end matter.


The client’s instructions and preferences covering style, deadlines, and any other specific items.


A person (though in some genres, e.g., fantasy, not necessarily human) in a story.


A note in the text, a footnote, or an endnote to show the attribution of a source text, e.g., This is a citation (Jones, 2016).

Clean Copy

An edited version of a document without markup showing. Proofreaders will often provide one clean copy and one with tracked changes. The clean copy has the same edits as the track changes copy, but it is clear of markup and ready to use.


Microsoft Word allows you to easily add comments to documents. Comments should be used when suggesting major changes or when you are unsure of anything. They may also be used to explain changes that you have made.


A function of Microsoft Word that allows the user to compare two versions of the same document, generating a track changes copy that shows all changes.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is a light edit, typically focusing on removing errors and inconsistencies. Copy editing is sometimes grouped together with line editing, but while the former focuses on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, the latter looks at style and phrasing.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is a term that varies in use, but it typically involves helping an author to develop a manuscript, often from the very start of the project. A developmental editor may help the author establish the concept, content, and structure of the text and assist them in the writing process.

This is not always the case, however. When a publisher engages a freelance developmental editor, they may do so once the author has already written the first draft, particularly if the manuscript needs significant revision.

Displayed Matter

Any text that doesn’t sit within the running text, for example, headings, tables, lists, and block quotations.


The umbrella term editing covers a wide range of processes related to preparing a document for publication or other use. In publishing, common stages of editing include:

  1. Developmental editing
  2. Substantive editing
  3. Line editing
  4. Copy editing
  5. Proofreading

Freelance editing, though, may blur the lines between these stages.

End Note

Notes that usually appear between the end of the main text and the bibliography or at the end of individual chapters.

Final Proofs

The final proofs are the final version of a manuscript approved for printing by the author and publisher. For more information, see Proofs.

Find and Replace 

A useful function in Microsoft Word’s editing suite that allows you to search for a word or phrase and replace it en bloc with something else.


Formatting includes all aspects related to the presentation of a document, such as layout, line and paragraph spacing, margins, headings, tables and images, fonts, tables of contents, and page numbering.


The design of specific characters (letters, numbers, symbols) also known as the typeface (see below).

Front Matter

Material that appears at the beginning of a manuscript before the main text.

Front matter includes the title page, contents, foreword, and list of figures.

Hard Copy

Any text printed on paper rather than on a screen. 

Headline Style

A selection of features (collated into one function in Microsoft Word) that gives consistency to headings, including font and paragraph features.

House Style 

The standardized choices made by a publishing house to ensure consistency across its publications, including spelling, punctuation, abbreviations, and capitalization.

Keyboard Shortcut

Small combinations of keystrokes used to speed up typing or to remove the need to use a mouse; for example, Ctrl + C to copy an item. 

Line Editing

Line editing provides a level of editing somewhere between substantive and copy editing. While it is sometimes conflated with copy editing, it focuses less on the mechanical aspects of writing (e.g. spelling, grammar, punctuation) and more on style and phrasing.


A short piece of code that speeds up an editorial task, for example, find and replace (see above).


A manuscript is a document that an author has prepared for submission to a publisher or editor.

Marking Up

Marking up is a significant part of the editing and proofreading process. It involves annotating a document with suggested changes. In modern proofreading and editing, most marking up is done via tools such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature. However, some clients may still want hard copy editing, marked up using traditional proofreader’s marks.

Mechanical Editing

Mechanical editing focuses on:

  • Spelling, grammar, and punctuation
  • Clarity and consistency
  • Making sure the text follows a specified style sheet or guide
  • Suitability of language

It does not involve making substantial changes to content or structure. Copy editing and proofreading are types of mechanical editing.

Page Proofs

Page proofs are the initial typeset version of a publication. For more information, see Proofs.


Plagiarism is when an author uses someone else’s work without attribution. Often, this happens by mistake when an author forgets to reference quotations. It can also happen if a student submits academic work that someone else has written for them and can result in severe penalties, such as the student being refused their degree. For this reason, it’s important that proofreaders of academic work know how much they can alter student work without crossing the line into plagiarism.

Proofing Language

The language and dialect used by the spellchecker (e.g., UK English, US English, or Australian English) in Microsoft Word or another word processor. A proofreader should adjust the proofing language where necessary to match the dialect used in the document.

Proofreader’s Marks

Before computers became ubiquitous, editing and proofreading were done using a hard copy of a text. A system of symbols and abbreviations was used to mark up the hard copy, both within the text and in the margins. While these have largely been replaced by on-screen tools such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, they are not entirely obsolete. Some clients may still ask for hard-copy proofreading.


In traditional publishing, proofreading is the final stage of editing. Proofs are checked for errors missed during previous rounds of editing or introduced during typesetting. Modern freelance proofreading outside of the publishing industry, though, often involves working directly on a draft document and combines aspects of both traditional proofreading and copy editing.


In traditional publishing, a proof is a test version of a document that is produced before mass printing. This is what a proofreader checks after the manuscript has been typeset. Proofs were sometimes also known as galley proofs, so named because of the “galleys” used to set type for printing.


Any words taken from a source and used in a text. Quotations in academic writing should be properly cited and referenced.


A note to show the attribution of a source text, usually in a reference list at the end of an academic paper or book.

Reference List

A list of sources quoted or paraphrased in a text, with full bibliographic information.

Revised Proofs

Revised proofs are a set of proofs incorporating any changes from the first round of proofreading. For more information, see Proofs.

Style Guide

A style guide is a published guide featuring advice on writing style, formatting, structure, and/or referencing. Many editing and proofreading projects will involve following a particular style guide.

There are many types of style guides, including:

  • Regional or dialect-specific style guides (e.g., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage)
  • Academic style guides (e.g., APA Style)
  • Journalistic style guides (e.g., the AP Stylebook)

Many organizations also have in-house style sheets. These may draw on established style guides and specify variations. Or they may start from scratch, providing detailed advice on how documents produced by an organization should be written and presented.

Style Sheet

A style sheet is a list of stylistic preferences used by an author or organization. Editors and proofreaders may need to create style sheets for some projects, particularly when working on a long document or multiple documents for the same client.

Substantive Editing

Substantive editing is a broad term covering any type of editing that involves making significant changes to the structure, content, or style of a document.

Track Changes

A function in Microsoft Word that shows changes that have been made to a document. Proofreaders will usually provide a clean copy and one with tracked changes applied so that the customer can see what has been edited.


Another term for font, although strictly, a font is a subdivision of a typeface. The terms are often used interchangeably


The preparation of text and images from a manuscript for printing. This was traditionally done with moveable type (hence the name), but modern typesetting is done by digitally arranging type on screen.

Word Styles

Groups of text formatting specifications that are used to define, for example, headings, paragraphs, and lists.

Becoming A Proofreader and Editor

A glossary of terms, such as this one, is a great back up tool when a term slips your memory, but the best route to becoming a freelance proofreader and editor is professional training. We offer courses giving you in-depth knowledge and lots of practice in both proofreading and editing. 

You can choose from a wide range of courses or take advantage of our great-value bundle. And if you pass both courses with a score of at least 80 percent, our partner company, Proofed, guarantees you a work trial. If freelance proofreading and editing sounds a good fit for you, sign up for a free trial!

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Join the Conversation

Carol Shetler says:
January 12, 2023 at 9:57PM
Thanks for this glossary. I'd like to leave a comment about Module 4.2 of the Becoming a Proofreader course - Regional Spelling Variations. Canadian spellings were not covered in this module. Canadians do NOT use American or UK spellings exclusively but "bounce" back and forth depending on tradition and usage. For example, Canadians use "cheque" the UK spelling, but "program", "aluminum" and either "jewelry" or "jewellery" depending on who owns the advertising copy that is being written. Do you have any plans to address Canadian spellings in the Becoming a Proofreader course?
    Knowadays says:
    January 23, 2023 at 12:18PM
    Hi Carol! Thank you for your comment. We agree entirely, and plan to add more detail on Canadian and Australian English to the course in the near future.

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