What Is the Difference Between Editing and Proofreading?
  • 7-minute read
  • 14th February 2023

What Is the Difference Between Editing and Proofreading?

Have you finished writing your book or thesis and aren’t sure whether you need proofreading or editing for your next steps? Or maybe you’re looking into becoming an editor and want to learn more about the differences between proofreading and editing? In this article, you’ll get a detailed description of the editing and proofreading processes and how they differ.

What Is Proofreading?

Proofreading is the final step in the writing process and involves checking for mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and inconsistencies. It happens after the text has been written and edited and focuses on catching any remaining mistakes.

What Does a Proofreader Look for?

Proofreaders look for surface-level mistakes in the final draft of a manuscript or piece of writing. Their job is to make sure everything is consistent with things like spelling and formatting and to check for any missed grammar or punctuation mistakes.

Depending on the quality of the writing or editing, proofreaders may also catch mistakes or note organizational or structural issues. When this happens, they highlight the problem and leave a note to the writer. However, proofreaders do not make changes to the content, organization, or structure of a piece of writing. They look for mistakes and inconsistencies in:

●  Spelling

●  Grammar

●  Punctuation

●  Capitalization

●  Formatting

What Is Editing?

Editing is a broader term that encompasses a variety of tasks that improve the quality of written work. This happens before proofreading. It includes examining the content, structure, and style of the text.

It’s also important to note that there are different types of editing. This is especially important in the book publishing industry. If you look online, you’ll find several websites saying there are four, five, or even six types of editing. Regardless of how many types of editing exist, they all fall under two categories:

Substantive editing, also known as content or development editing, focuses on big-picture issues. This includes refining ideas in the text, reshaping narratives, and fixing inconsistencies in the plot or characters. This is when structure, content, and organizational changes are made.

Mechanical editing, which includes copy and line editing as well as proofreading aspects, focuses on polishing the text. After major issues in the text are corrected, editors can focus on other issues, such as smaller inconsistencies, sentence structure, and grammar issues.

If you’re editing a smaller piece of writing, such as an essay for a class assignment, you’ll most likely only need to edit one or two times. However, for larger manuscripts, such as novels or PhD theses, you may need to undergo many rounds of editing. Larger manuscripts may also need revising before editing, so be sure to evaluate your writing before starting any of these processes.

What Does an Editor Look for?

While proofreaders look for surface-level mistakes, editors are concerned with the bigger picture. Generally, editors will take a line-by-line approach to a piece of writing to ensure the meaning is clear, the content makes sense, and the overall flow of the document is smooth.

Additionally, editors can make substantial changes to a manuscript if there are major issues, such as plot or character inconsistencies, weak parts of the narrative, or organizational problems.

As mentioned in the previous section, mechanical editing also addresses grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting issues. However, editors are more focused on the overall coherence and cohesion of the piece, so some mistakes might be overlooked. This is why final proofreading is done after editing. Editors focus on:

●  Plot or character inconsistencies

●  Clarity and coherence

●  Structure and organization

●  Tone, style, and voice

●  Repetition and redundancy

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●  Sentence structure

●  Overall consistency

Differences Between Proofreading and Editing

While there is some overlap between proofreading and mechanical editing, such as checking for consistencies, grammar, and formatting, they are very different processes. Editing still focuses on the bigger picture of a text. For example, an editor will ask:

●  Are there plot holes?

●  Are character descriptions consistent?

●  Is the structure and organization of the text logical and easy to follow?

●  Is the tone, style, and voice of the text appropriate and consistent?

●  Is each sentence clear and easy to understand?

Proofreading focuses on making sure everything is consistent (these consistencies could be outlined in a style guide given to the proofreader) and checking for any grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and formatting mistakes. It’s the last step in the writing process.

Proofreaders may also catch mistakes missed in the editing process and leave notes for the writer if drastic alterations are still needed. Proofreaders ask:

●  Is everything consistent according to the writer’s specifications (e.g., style guide/referencing system)?

●  Is the text free of grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and formatting mistakes?

●  Do I see any lengthy, awkward, or unclear sentences I need to highlight for additional editing?

Why Both Are Important

Editing and proofreading are both integral parts of the writing process. They ensure that your writing is of the highest quality possible. It’ll be hard to get a book published that has character inconsistencies or plot holes. And journals aren’t going to publish research articles with grammar errors or missing punctuation. Editing and proofreading services ensure your writing gets to your intended audience.

The editing process is going to look different for different types of writing. For example, if you’re editing a literature paper for an English class, you’re looking for a strong thesis statement, topic sentences in body paragraphs, and supporting evidence from the text. However, book editing focuses on plot, characters, chapter organization, style, prose, and much more.


Editing and proofreading are different processes. Editing happens before proofreading and includes making content, structural, and organizational changes. Proofreading is the last stage in the writing process and happens before the writing is published or submitted. Proofreaders check for grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and formatting inconsistencies.

If you have an important text that you intend to share with a larger audience or submit to a class, editing and proofreading are essential. These processes will make sure your writing is of high quality and error-free.


How do proofreading and editing differ in terms of their processes and goals?

Proofreading is the last step in the writing process and focuses on surface-level mistakes, such as grammar, spelling, and formatting mistakes. Editing takes place before proofreading and focuses on big picture issues, such as content, structure, and organization.

How do you know if you need proofreading or editing services?

You need editing services if you just finished writing and have a first draft. However, if you’ve done some editing on your own and aren’t sure which service you need next, talk to a professional. They’ll evaluate your writing and give you suggestions.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a proofreading and editing service?

Proofreading and editing services result in high-quality and error-free writing from trained professionals. The disadvantage of proofreading and editing services is having to pay for them.

Are you in need of editing or proofreading services for your essay, novel, or business proposal? Our experts are here to make sure your writing is error-free and ready for publication. Try our free trial today!

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