Editing versus Proofreading – What’s The Difference?

Companies like Writing Rose offer separate services for professional editing and proofreading. But how does a writer like you know if they need editing services, proofreading services, or both? Is there a difference between editing and proofreading?

Whether you’ve been writing and publishing for years or are simply a hobbyist looking to get your ideas out to the world, you want your writing to be completely free of errors in the eyes of your readers.

It can be difficult for a writer to edit and proofread their own writing. As the author of the ideas, you know what you are trying to say, so you are not always able to see small errors that may confuse people who aren’t inside your head. This is where professional editing and proofreading services come in.

So what is the difference between editing services and proofreading services? For most people outside of the professional writing industry, what they think of as proofreading actually refers to the process of editing. Confused? Don’t worry! By reading this post, you will know the similarities and differences between editing and proofreading services. Then, you can examine your needs as a writer to know which services are appropriate for your document. At the end, I’ll show you how you can hire a professional proofreader or editor.

Bloggers, novelists, journalists, cookbook authors, copywriters, administrative assistants, company executives, doctoral students – to name a few – all use professional editing and proofreading services to different degrees. This article will help you decide which services are right for you.

What does editing look like?

An editor makes your writing shine. They help you write your own words, but better. Your editor is a proactive supporter of your voice, offering suggestions and alternatives that help you improve the overall readability and quality of your writing.

Here are some things a good editor might do for you:

  • Explain possibly confusing ideas and passages, offering alternative interpretations so that the author can clarify their ideas
  • Point out where background knowledge might be missing and more explanations could be necessary
  • Ask questions when the meaning of the text is unclear
  • Correct inconsistencies, such as in the spelling of names and places or in the descriptions of physical objects
  • Eliminate redundancies, such as when something has been described more than once or an idea has been brought up over and over
  • Correct for the appropriate use of passive voice and active voice
  • Comment on the use of language and tone as appropriate for the intended audience (for example, use of slang may not be appropriate on a blog post intended to be read by retired persons, but could add relevancy to one aimed at people in their early 20s)
  • Ensure use of appropriate language and the use of slang and dialects
  • Include conscious and inclusive language

Editing Example

To give you an idea of what editing could look like in a document, check out this example. In this blog post for a travel website, the author is telling a story about a hike. The author’s intention is to paint a picture in the reader’s mind that will inspire them to go on the same hike. Knowing this, the editor is looking for good storytelling elements such as strong imagery and a believable timeline. In one paragraph, the author rushes through part of the timeline, which could possibly confuse the reader.

In this case, the editor has inserted a simple comment to the author noting the break in the timeline. From there, the author can decide how to proceed.

What does proofreading look like?

Proofreading is the final search for errors, the last step before a document is published. It’s a fine-toothed comb: seeking out the smallest and slightest spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, commonly misused words, and incorrect formatting.

A proofreader goes through the document and corrects these errors, however, they do not make any suggestions or changes to the text except where a language rule is broken or the sentence does not make sense. 

Overall, proofreading is a faster and less intensive service, and this means it is also less expensive! However, just because it’s less intensive than editing doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Writing that is going to be published in any format should be completely free of errors so that the author’s message is conveyed the way they intend, clearly and completely. 

Here are some things a proofreader will do for you:

  • Fix spelling and grammar mistake
  • Correct typos
  • Query obviously confusing or repetitive passages (but not offer suggestions for how to correct them – that’s an editor’s job!)
  • Ensure consistency in spelling of proper nouns such as character or place names and the numbering of figures or images
  • Cross-reference the table of contents, index, appendices, footnotes, and endnotes
  • Adhere to style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, MLA, and/or a house style guide

Proofreading Example

Let’s look at another blog post to see an example of proofreading. Here is a summary of the corrections made:

  • Use of commas, colons, semicolons, and dashes – the rules for this are nuanced, so it’s good to have a professional look at them
  • Incorrect use of a homonym: using band instead of banned. The word processor’s spell check won’t pick up on this error!
  • Eliminated some extra spaces between words
  • Corrected abbreviations (U.S. to US, U.S.A. to USA)

What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?

To really see the difference between editing services and proofreading services, let’s examine one sentence through the lens of each. This sentence is completely grammatically correct and does make sense as far as the rules of the English language. However, you can see that the order of events is a little confusing.

  • Walking through the door in a tizzy, the woman got mad at the clerk when she wasn’t able to help, bumping her toe on the edge of the table.

Because there is nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence, a proofreader wouldn’t change anything about it, nor make any comments. They’d just keep on proofreading and this sentence would be published.

To contrast, an editor would comment to the author about the order of events presented in this sentence, as well as remark about the overall delivery of the message. Here’s an example of what that might sound like:

  • The woman is acting out a number of simultaneous actions – while she is walking through the door, she is also getting mad at the clerk, as well as bumping her toe. Are all these actions happening at the same time? What happened first? Did she bump her toe on the table in reaction to something, such as her anger at the clerk?

This comment is also an example of how an editor preserves the author’s voice. Instead of rewriting the passage, the editor asks clarifying questions. This leaves creative control in the hands of the author of the work.

Who should use a proofreader?

You might be thinking to yourself, who cares about these tiny little errors that escape the eye of most people? Yes, the majority of the error in the example above would never be noticed by the average person. As I said before, the difference in the proper use of commas, colons, and semicolons is nuanced – so why should I care?

Even if it’s only by some readers, small errors are noticed. Mistakes can have an effect on the message of the writing.

Some readers might chuckle if they notice the use of a comma instead of a period as the ending punctuation mark of a sentence (a common error that proofreaders catch). If your message is serious, you might not want your message to be interrupted by someone chuckling at an easily correctable error.

As a writer, you might find it unimportant and frustrating to use the correct version of affect or effect. If you use the wrong one, most people are going to know what you mean. However, using the wrong one would make your writing lose credibility in the eyes of some readers.

While some errors are relatively harmless, others can completely change the meaning of the text. Check out these examples to see what I mean. By the way, these are all errors that spelling and grammar checks may not see, (but a human proofreader will).

Errors that obscure meaning

  • Let’s eat grandma! versus Let’s eat, grandma!

Oh my – is the author talking about cannibalism or are they telling grandma it’s time for a meal?

  • I like cooking my family and my pets versus I like cooking, my family, and my pets.

Another slightly morbid example, but the point is illustrated completely: the proper use of commas is important.

  • Let’s meat at the office after lunch versus Let’s meet at the office after lunch. 
  • I thought it was a waist of time versus I thought it was a waste of time.

Simple errors like the last two examples are incredibly common when a writer is working quickly, and since they don’t necessarily obscure the idea being conveyed, can easily be missed by the author.

A writer’s success depends on the widespread enjoyment of their work by many people. If errors in spelling, punctuation, and word usage put off some people, a writer loses credibility to potential readers. While oral language is brightened and colored by accents, dialects, and other forms of slang and inflection, published written words conform to a set of standards. Because writing is a one-way discourse, it is important that the meaning is clear the first time.

It is not important for everyone to learn the minute details of the rules of written English. That’s what proofreaders and editors are for! These writing professionals help you write your ideas, but better. A one-time investment in a service like this can have lasting impacts on how your writing is read and received. 

Any document that is intended to be read by a large number of people should be proofread by a professional. This includes novels and stories, articles, blog posts, company documents, dissertations and theses, biographies and histories, website content, press releases, catalog descriptions, recipes – and more!

If you don’t use a proofreader, you’re bound to one day get an email from a reader who points out a mistake or few you’ve missed. Professional proofreading services like Writing Rose offer package deals for clients to submit multiple documents for proofreading at a discount.

Who should use an editor? Should I hire a separate editor and proofreader?

Whether or not you should hire a separate editor and proofreader depends on what kind of document you have.

Fiction stories and novels

If you are writing fiction, you can consider going through rounds of developmental editing first. Developmental editors help you shape your story into something that people will enjoy reading by assisting in the development of the build-up, climax, and conclusion of the story.

After the book is finished, a line editor or copyeditor (such as one of the professionals at Writing Rose) will take the sentences line-by-line, making queries such as those in the examples above and making extensive suggestions to improve readability.

Once you’ve got all that situated, the proofreader ensures that no mistakes were able to make it through all those rounds of editing.

Are you looking for a developmental editor for your novel or fiction piece? A good place to start might be the member directory of the Editorial Freelancers Association, one of the largest professional associations of editors. Check the box for “Developmental/Substantive editing” to find people who specialize in that kind.

Nonfiction, articles, website content, etc.

If your document is anything other than fiction – an article, a paper, a blog post, company documents, website content, or a piece of informative or persuasive writing, to name a few examples – it is your choice whether you will first seek out editing and then proofreading, or simply go for proofreading. To make this choice, consider a few things:

  • How complex are my ideas? Do I assume a level of background knowledge in my readers? Is there anywhere that background knowledge needs to be explained?
  • Are there any cause-effect relationships that could potentially confuse the reader?
  • Do I present a timeline or an order of events that is important for understanding the overall message?

But wait – if I hire an editor and they’re good at their job, why would I also need a proofreader? Wouldn’t a good editor find all the mistakes? What’s the point of hiring a proofreader as well?

When an editor is reading a text to ensure that ideas are presented truthfully and in the correct order it becomes easy to miss small mistakes. Since the proofreader is only reading for grammatical rules, they are able to spot the tiniest of mistakes before publication. While a good editor will catch a lot of these small errors, anything that is meant to be published or widely read should still use a proofreader to ensure that it is completely error-free.

How can I hire an editor or proofreader?

All of the examples of editing and proofreading in this post come from actual client documents from Writing Rose, my professional writing, editing, and proofreading service. 

Read more about Writing Rose services here, and contact us for a custom quote for your document!

My name is Rosemary, and thank you for reading. Do you have any more questions about editing and proofreading that I didn’t answer? Something confusing or not clear? Feel free to send me an email: email and I’ll get back to you. A faster way to get a response is to leave a comment below.

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