Editing, Proofreading, Writing

Proofreading vs. Editing: What’s the Difference?

Tam has written an essay for a political science course that she is taking at her local community college. This is her first semester back in school after spending three years in the workforce. Having grown up in a bilingual family, English is not Tam’s native language. She remembers being an entry-level writer who struggled to use correct grammar in her high school writing assignments. She knows she made spelling errors on a regular basis and that she had some issues with sentence structure.

Now, to help her spot some of the more common spelling and grammar errors, Tam uses an automated online proofreading tool, along with her browser’s built-in spelling and grammar checkers. Although these tools offer real-time suggestions, she has noticed that they don’t always catch her spelling mistakes if she has accidentally used the wrong word. They also don’t tell her whether her sentences sound as if they were written by a native English speaker, or if she has an essay that is organized appropriately.

Tam thinks her writing skills are improving, but she is nervous about making grammar errors, especially in more complex sentences. She’s not sure if she is capable of completing the college-level advanced writing projects that require a more academic style. Because she is not an expert at English writing, she wants a second set of eyes to make sure she hasn’t missed any type of error that could affect the impression she makes with her papers. She knows that human editors are a necessary step for any writer. 

“I just want someone to look at my essay,” Tam told her classmate, Erin. “I don’t want to turn in a paper that has mistakes.”

“I understand,” said Erin. “But do you want someone to proofread your document or edit it?”

“I’m not sure,” said Tam. “I always thought editing and proofreading meant the same thing. Is there really a difference?”

Proofreading and editing are not the same.

It’s true that sometimes people use the terms “proofreading” and “editing” interchangeably. Indeed, many professional editors (including the ones at TextRanch) do both jobs. However, not every proofreading service also offers editing, and not all editors will take jobs that solely involve proofreading. Artificial intelligence (AI) tools and automated proofreading software can be helpful with certain tasks, but they have limits. Such tools can even cause avoidable spelling errors because they are not capable of understanding context.

While there can be some overlap, proofreading and editing involve making different kinds of changes and corrections to a piece of writing. Let’s take a closer look at them.

What is proofreading?

Are you looking for someone who will check your email, cover letter, academic paper, or business document for typographical errors or spelling and grammar mistakes? If so, then you need a proofreading service to review your piece of writing.

Professional proofreaders are usually involved in the very last stage in the writing process. They comb through the completed text, checking for minor language errors that might have been missed during the writing or rewriting stages. Professional writers–even famous book authors–rely on the proofreading step to ensure that their final products are free of any potentially costly error. Everybody makes mistakes, and it’s the proofreader’s job to catch them.

Professional proofreading includes the basic proofreading tasks of finding and correcting:

  • Spelling mistakes
  • Grammar mistakes
  • Punctuation mistakes
  • Capitalization mistakes

Proofreading isn’t meant to identify major writing problems. A proofreader won’t improve the quality of your writing or make any kind of comprehensive edit to improve the writing style of your business email, academic paper, or story. Unless there is some kind of grammar, spelling, or punctuation error, your wording will remain the same as you originally wrote it, even if it sounds awkward.

At TextRanch, proofreading is what our team of editors will do for you when you choose our Basic service level. For some of our customers, this is enough–especially if they are at the end of the writing process and just need the benefits of proofreading to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. However, many of our customers want a more thorough review of their text. They want to know if the English sounds natural, or if their ideas flow smoothly. In other words, they want editing rather than proofreading.

What happens during the editing process?

The professional editing process also involves correcting your spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but you can also expect to see some stylistic improvements to your text. If a certain word doesn’t sound right in a particular context, your editor can substitute it with a more appropriate word. Editors are language experts who can also make changes to sentence structure to remove any phrasing that sounds awkward or unnatural.

Let’s look at an example:

The silverware was placed on the table by Jeffrey.

Since the above sentence is technically correct, someone who is simply proofreading the text wouldn’t change it. However, during the editing process, an editor would consider other factors such as tone and audience. Depending on the information provided, the editor might change this from the passive voice to the active voice:

Jeffrey placed the silverware on the table.

Editing services usually also make sure that your piece of writing is well-organized and that the tone remains consistent. Maybe a formal business email contains a phrase or sentence that is too casual for that context. Perhaps another sentence needs to be moved to a different section of the text in order to be effective. Your editor can fix all of these issues.

These are the kinds of changes you can expect when you choose the Advanced level of service at TextRanch. At this level, it’s possible to leave a note for the editor to help explain context or any terms specific to various fields of study.

For longer documents, we offer Advanced and Premium editing. The Premium editing process is even more in-depth than Advanced editing, especially in terms of how your content is organized and whether there is too much repetition. At the Premium editing level, your editor also leaves detailed notes regarding the changes they are making and how those changes will improve your piece of writing. TextRanch even offers an instant price quote with an array of options when you upload your entire document!

Making a decision…

Now that you know the difference between proofreading and editing, take a moment to consider your own needs as a writer.

First, consider the document type you have written. Are you working on an academic document that will be graded by a professor, or a crucial letter that might determine whether you are hired for a job? Are you writing a blog post that requires a casual style, or a more formal article with more formal content structure? Do you write many short emails and texts to different people every day and just need a human proofreader to look them over before they go to their intended recipients?

There are other factors you might want to consider. How comfortable are you with the English language and with writing in general? Are you dealing with any challenges, such as dyslexia or ADHD, that might cause you to be more prone to making spelling mistakes or other errors? Do you use AI tools, but you aren’t sure if their suggestions will satisfy your professor or your boss?

Someone in Tam’s situation would benefit from editing in combination with proofreading. First, an editor should review the content of her paper to make corrections and suggestions about improving style or fixing consistency errors. After Tam creates a new version of her paper by incorporating the suggestions her editor makes, she should have a proofreader review the new content to ensure that no new language errors were introduced.

In addition to making any necessary changes, a professional editor can also boost Tam’s confidence by letting her know what she is doing right. Then she can take what she has learned from this experience and use it when she writes her next essay.

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