How to Know if You Need a Proofreader or Editor

Need a Proofreader or Editor?

When your coworker asks you to proofread the report, what does she really mean?

There you are, sitting at your desk. Contemplating why some people wear down the pencil’s eraser until it’s level with the ferrule, while others don’t. It’s curious, you think.

It’s not that you don’t have anything to do.

Oh no.

Your to-do list is long. That’s why you’re taking a mental vacation at your desk.

Proofreading Versus Editing

But, Bob sees you from across the room and thinks this to be the opportune moment to ask you to “proofread” his report. Your reputation for having eagle eyes that spot typographical errors and misspellings precede you. But, you’re busier than you look at the moment. He just caught you reflecting about pencil erasers. (But, that’s okay. You’re secret’s safe.)

Anyway, Bob’s request sparks a conflict within you: you want to help but, you’re overloaded already. Besides that, you’re not sure if he wants you to proofread or edit his report.

Let’s see what kind of help Bob needs from you. These few tips will help you help Bob:

First, ask Bob if he wants your help to proofread or edit. The terms proofreading and editing are commonly confused. Proofreading is the last step in the process before a written piece is printed or published. Traditionally, proofreading involves:

  • Carefully reviewing the work to ensure it’s error-free
  • Evaluating whether or not the text adheres to a style guide
  • Correcting all spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and any inconsistencies in terms, titles, numbers, formatting, and mechanics

Do you think Bob had his report edited already and he’s coming to you to spot any errors?

Yes? Then he needs your proofreading skills.

No? He needs the report edited.

Get the Big Picture

Editing entails reading a written piece or body of work for the “big picture” to improve the flow and readability and overall quality of writing. If Bob wants your help to edit his print-out, ask him if he means he’d like you to:

  • Read his report with the “big picture” in mind
  • Check for clarity, conciseness, word choice, point out jargon, and review paragraph structure
  • Verify that all facts in his report are correct. Is he asking you to call phone numbers, double-check web links, calculate any equations to see if they add up, or investigate the accuracy of all names, dates, titles, and addresses? All of this is considered “fact-checking” and typically is part of the editing process.

That’s editing. In the order of things, it precedes proofreading. But, most people use the terms interchangeably.

Is Bob asking for proofreading help when he wants editing or vice versa? Knowing the difference–and helping Bob understand the difference, will save you time.

Get Back to Your Mini-Vacation

The next time Bob interrupts your mini-vacation to ask you to proofread his writing, take a minute to ask if he wants you to find errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation (the basics of proofreading) or review the document(s) for flow and readability, which are the basics of editing. Then you can plan your time for the task–and schedule your next mini-vacation.

When your workload becomes an overload, please give me a call to help you get your proofreading work finished well.


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