What’s the Difference Between Proofreading and Copy Editing

Are the terms interchangeable?

Proofreading Follows Editing

There you are, sitting at your desk. Contemplating why some people wear down the pencil’s eraser until it’s level with the silver band that fastens it to the pencil’s end–while others don’t. You’re lost in thought. It’s not that you don’t have any thing to do. Oh no. You’re swamped. But, Bob sees you from across the room, and thinks this to be the opportune moment to ask you “proofread” his report. Your reputation for having eagle eyes for catching typographical errors and misspellings precedes you. But, you’re busier than you look at the moment. He just caught you in a moment of reflection…about pencil erasers. But, that’s okay. Yet, Bob’s request heaps of handfull of conflict onto your desktop: you want to help but, but you’re overloaded already.

Here are a few tips to 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 if a style guide is being followed
  • Correcting all spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and any inconsistencies in terms, titles, numbers, formatting, and mechanics.
Editing, on the other hand, entails reading a written piece or body of work for the “big picture” to improve the flow and readability and overall quality of Bob’s writing. If Bob wants your help with editing his work, 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 apparent facts in the report are true. Is he asking you to call phone numbers, double-check web links, calculate any equations to see if they add up, or investigate that all names, dates, titles, and addresses?
That’s editing.
In the order of things, editing precedes proofreading.
So the next time you’re taking a mini-vacation at your desk and someone asks you to proofread their writing, take a minute to ask if they’d like you to find any errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation (the basics of proofreading) or review the document(s) for overall flow and readability, which are the basics of editing. Then you can plan your time for the task. (Or hire me for proofreading services 🙂  )