Editing vs. Proofreading: What is the difference?

Editing, proofreading and copyediting are often used interchangeably — but they’re not the same thing. To help clarify things, we have created this helpful guide to explain the difference.

Editing is the reviewing and changing of text to improve the flow and overall quality of the writing. An editor has the freedom to remove entire sentences or rewrite entire paragraphs. Editors can sometimes be distinguished by an individual style or specialism in a particular subject area. A good editor will correct any obvious errors in spelling, grammar or facts but their main goal is to use their skills to make sure the document makes sense, is concise, clear and fits “the brief”.

Proofreading is the process of examining the final draft of a document or text — after it has been edited — to make sure there are absolutely no errors. A proofreader checks the spelling, punctuation and grammar of a document. They’ll also look out for typos or incorrect use of regional English (i.e. ensuring that American English or British English is used when necessary). It goes beyond a basic “spellcheck” to catch errors that a computer might miss.

Proofreading can be done electronically — for example, using track changes in Microsoft Word or using a hardcopy that has been printed. Many proofreaders use standard proofreaders’ marks, a collection of symbols and shorthand to indicate corrections. (Professional graphic designers will also understand these marks).

To “copyedit” a document is to proofread it — with the added expectation of ensuring the document matches the style, message and feel of content from the company or publication. Copyediting is also known as “sub-editing” in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

A copyeditor should have the attention to detail of a proofreader as well as additional expertise in different styles of writing. A copyeditor needs to make sure names, locations and dates are consistent and always treated the same way. A copyeditor should also be able to fact-check documents or have specialised knowledge in a particular field.

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