One of the greatest writers’ debates is the difference between editing and proofreading. Although most people use these terms loosely, and sometimes even interchangeably, editing and proofreading are not the same. However, this does not mean that they do not have many things in common! For instance, they are both essential parts of the revision process, they both require careful reading, and they both can immensely improve your writing.
Thus, in this article, I will outline the differences between both services based on my experience as a freelance writer.
According to most writers, editing involves a thorough revision of a text and evaluates the overall quality of your writing, especially when it comes to language use and expression. As a result, the editor focuses on crucial aspects that include, but are not limited, to:
• Consistency of the language
• Argument reasoning and rationale
• Transition between paragraphs
• Writing style
• Citations and referencing
After editing, your essay will naturally flow, the language will be sharp, your expression clear, and the readability of your writing enhanced. A well-edited piece will also give readers the impression that English is your first language (even if it is not).
Consequently, when editing an article or document, you must consider all of the following categories:
Content is undoubtedly the first thing you should be editing. A well-written piece needs to convey a message in a logical and organized manner. Failure to do so can prevent readers from understanding your argument or following your train of thought. Thus, when editing content, consider the following:
- Is your argument clear?
- Are all of your claims consistent with your argument?
- Have you supported each idea with adequate evidence?
- Have you achieved your overall writing goal?
The structure will determine if your essay is easy to read by making sure everything flows naturally. In other words, when editing structure, you are looking for inconsistencies within paragraphs and sentences. Hence, make sure you:
- Have a clear introduction and conclusion
- Use smooth transitions between sections
- Organize paragraphs to have a logical sequence
- Include only one main idea in each paragraph
I always recommend following an outline to avoid rambling and to make sure you are reaching your objectives efficiently and effectively.
Clarity & Style
When revising clarity and style, you should always consider the audience. Thus, ask yourself if the tone (e.g., formal, informal, persuasive, descriptive) is appropriate for the audience at hand. Also, double-check your text to make sure your use of gendered language is correct. Non-native English speakers tend to have trouble with masculine and feminine pronouns, especially with words that seem to be gender-specific (e.g., fireman, nurse, policeman) but are not.
Moreover, avoid using overly complicated words that are not part of your regular vocabulary — odds are you will misuse them. And always make sure you define any critical terms (that your reader may be unfamiliar with) at the beginning of your text. These terms include abbreviations, technical terms, regional expressions, and more.
Proofreading, on the other hand, is a more straightforward process. It usually consists of correcting common writing errors such as grammatical, spelling, punctuation, typos, and other mistakes that may appear within a text. And, even though this process is not as thorough as the editing process, it still represents an essential part of writing. Also, it is necessary to highlight that some writers, like myself, consider proofreading to be the final stage of editing.
Most people believe that proofreading is an easy and somewhat effortless task. But, in reality, eliminating mistakes and inconsistencies in a document can go a long way. Professional proofreaders understand the nuances and conventions of the English language and are trained to be methodical and very well versed. The ‘common eye’ can miss out on
inconspicuous faults such as inconsistent terminology, spelling, and formatting.
Furthermore, even though proofreading has little to do with content, for a text to be clear, it must be free of:
• Spelling mistakes
• Grammar or punctuation errors
• Typographical errors or ‘typos’
• Inconsistencies in language
Having a document filled with these types of mistakes can undermine the impact of the writing and the credibility of the author.
Thus, when proofreading, you must always keep in mind that you are not only looking for errors that you recognize; you are also learning to identify and correct new errors. Meaning that you may feel like something is ‘off,’ but be unsure as to how you can fix it, or you may think you have misspelled a word, but the ‘spell checker’ did not catch it. Here is where a professional proofreader comes in handy.
Proofreading vs. Editing
In a nutshell, proofreading is designed for documents that require a final revision to check for spelling, grammatical, typographical, or punctuation mistakes, while editing is meant to improve the overall quality of your written document by assessing content, structure, consistency, language use, and consistency.
Hence, if you are unsure as to what your document needs, I suggest you ask yourself the following question: Are you pleased with the quality of your writing?
If the answer is yes, then you should opt to hire a proofreading service. But, if, on the contrary, you believe your document can benefit from an extensive revision to improve quality and readability, editing would be the right service for you.
Furthermore, I usually recommend proofreading services for:
• Students or academics who are well-versed writers and have self-edited their work. Thus, they only require proofreading to eliminate surface errors.
• Authors who are publishing their work and can highly benefit from an additional revision to make sure everything is up to their standards.
• Businesses that require mistake-free documents, rather than optimizing the content or ‘messing around’ with the information provided.
I suggest people hire a professional editor if:
• You are not native in the language you write, as you probably will need a thorough revision of the text to correct more intricate mistakes or discrepancies.
• You have no previous editing experience, because learning the art of editing takes time, and it may not come as natural to those who have never dealt with it.