Writers, here is how editing and proofreading differ

As a writer or author, you may want a professional to add that extra polish to your work. But do you need a proofreader or an editor, or both? Some people assume that these roles are the same…or that you only need one or the other. So, here’s your insider guide to the difference between proofreading and editing. 

Are editing and proofreading the same? 

The short answer is no, though they do have some similarities. They’re both part of the editorial (pre-publishing) process and aim to get a text ready for publishing. Both require language, grammar, and punctuation knowledge and skills. As the skill sets are complementary, and as there are overlaps in what each role addresses, some proofreaders go on to become editors and some people do both roles. However, just because somebody is a great editor, it doesn’t necessarily make them a great proofreader, and vice versa. 

What is editing? 

“Editing” is a broad term that covers various tasks, including editorial assessment (also known as “critique”), content editing (also known as “developmental” or “structural” editing), line editing (also known as “substantive editing”), and copy editing. Depending on what country you’re in, these roles have different names and even different remits.  

The two main types are content editing (big picture) and copy editing (small picture). Content editing comes first, and it looks at the big picture—aiming to improve the structure, message, and content of the text. The latter focuses on the small picture, such as grammar, wording, sentence structure, and so on.  

What is proofreading? 

Proofreading is the last stage before a document is published. It always happens after editing—never before. If the document will be designed (such as a book or magazine), then proofreading happens when the text is in its final format (such as PDF).  

Proofreaders ensure that a text is error-free, which includes eliminating typos, punctuation, and grammar errors. However, they may also check visual aspects such as line spacing, font size, font type, etc. If the file has been designed, then the proofreader marks up the file for the designer to implement the changes.  

What are the differences? 

  • Editors aim to improve the text, be it the message, structure, flow, readability, clarity, wording, grammar, etc. Proofreaders don’t improve the text—they look for typos, errors, formatting mistakes, stylistic issues, etc. 
  • The editor is responsible for ensuring that the document meets the audience’s needs and/or is well-written. The proofreader is responsible for ensuring that the final document is error-free for publishing. 
  • The editor works on the document in its initial format (such as Word). The proofreader often works on the document in its final format (such as PDF). 
  • Editing is more of an art, as it involves the editor’s individual approach and interpretation. If you asked five editors to edit some text, you’d probably get five quite different results. Proofreading is more of a science. It’s based on rules. If you asked five proofreaders to proof some text, the results should be pretty similar.
  • Editing is a thought-based process, as the editor thinks about the intended audience, readability, etc. Proofreading is more of a visual process, as proofreaders look for errors.

In essence:

Editors improve the text. Proofreaders eliminate errors.

To edit, you use your mind. To proofread, you use your eyes. 

Editing is an art. Proofreading is a science.

Can you hire one person to do both? 

Technically yes—if you can find somebody skilled in both, that is. However, in an ideal world, your editor shouldn’t proofread a document that they’ve already edited. Why? Well, it’s very difficult to spot errors when you’re familiar with the content (as we covered in our earlier article) as your brain fills in the gaps. 

So, it’s better to hire separate people for editing and proofreading or find a company that offers both services. At The Book Shelf, we provide our editing and proofreading services through different people—ones that specialise in their respective services. If you need an editor, a proofreader, or both, then get in touch. 

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We’re here to help writers — we’re here to help you. 

By Ameesha Green