To new writers, the terms ‘Proofread’ and ‘Edit’ may appear to you to be the same thing. There is no shame in making such a mistake due to the rather ambiguous names and the fact that the definitions are occasionally disputed by people outside of the writing community. This means that even if you research the terms, you may get conflicting definitions that end up leaving you more confused than before on what exactly the difference between these two professions is. As both a professional writer, editor and proofreader, in this article I hope to clear up any uncertainty regarding what each of these terms mean, so let’s get started.
What is proofreading?
To determine the difference between the two we first need to determine what each service is. A proofreader is hired to go over the final draft of a document. They will thoroughly look through the content looking for any errors. This means they will review punctuation, spelling, typos and overall grammar, correcting it to not only improve the documents readability but also to improve the credibility of the writer.
You may be thinking that sounds easy and that you can do it yourself or simply ask a friend to give your work a once over, but while an untrained proofreader may catch some errors, a professional will carefully pick through the content and are guaranteed to find every issue within the document. From a misplaced comma, accidental double spacing or simple typos, to using the wrong word to convey a point and even ensuring that your writing uses consistent and correct forms of regional English. For example, if the writer is British and writing for a British audience, a proofreader will catch subtle errors such as words spelled in the American way (for example colour vs color) that may appear correct to the untrained eye.
Proofreading can be done using programs like Microsoft Word Track Changes, but was originally done using hard copies, when the document is printed out. While Microsoft Track Changes provides a great tool to edit and give notes, when it is unavailable (for times when you are given a hard copy), proofreaders use something called ‘Proofreader Marks’. These marks are a combination of symbols and abbreviations, allowing them to easily edit documents without the need to use any software.
What is editing?
Editing is the process of physically editing your writing, an editor has the power to make changes to whole sentences and paragraphs in order improve the quality and flow of the writing. Different editors may specialize in different subjects meaning that they will be better suited for certain types of content. By specializing in different subjects, I mean that they will be better suited to making changes when the content relates to a certain thing. For example, the editor of a cooking magazine would be able to improve the readability and flow of a recipe but may struggle editing content that relates to the inner workings of a car engine or a recent sporting event.
Good editors will correct any spelling or punctuation errors they catch, but they should not be relied on for this as their main focus will be sticking to their job, improving the flow of the writing, removing unnecessary wording and clarifing any ambiguity that may exist within the document.
There is also a third profession that gets mixed up with the two mentioned above and, just like them, is often misunderstood and lumped in as being the same thing. The profession of which I’m speaking is that of a ‘Copyeditor’.
A copyeditor differs from the previous two because the confusion regarding its purpose is, in my opinion, completely justified and I would not expect the average person to be able to differentiate a copyeditor from a proofreader. While a proofreader will scour a document looking for punctuation and spelling errors, a copywriter will do the exact same thing, with the added responsibility of ensuring that the content is written in a consistent style to match other content from a company or publication. They will, in essence, proofread while also making sure the content follows the stylistic rules set by whichever company they are hired by. Due to the added responsibility involved, a copyeditor will typically charge more than a regular proofreader. While not always needed, if you’re writing for a company rather than freelancing, it is very possible you will need to have your content copyedited by someone of their choosing.
To summarize this, a proofreader is there to go over your work and to comb through it, inspecting it for any potential spelling or punctuation errors while also ensuring the right type of English (British vs American) is used consistently throughout. They will go above and beyond what you could expect from a friend helping out or an ordinary spellcheck tool and are there to make sure your document is error free and ready to be completed as the final draft. An editor is not there to correct spelling errors and will instead make changes to your work in order to improve the readability, flow and free it of vague wording that could cause uncertainty in the readers mind as to what the writer actually meant.
Copyeditors are essentially proofreaders but are not generally necessary unless you are writing for a company that requires your work to be checked by one.
Overall, proofreaders and editors both provide very different services but, at least for major work, should be used together. An editor should first be used to correct the structure, tone and overall content of your writing, and should be followed by a proofreader in order to iron out any errors the editor is likely to have missed. Many people mistake these jobs, thinking that hiring one will cover both areas. There are many people will both edit and proofread your work, but hopefully thanks to this article, you will not be surprised when they charge you for both services.