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Editing vs. proofreading – what’s the difference?

Posted last April 25, 2012, 3:23 am for Jo Watson Productions in Services report article

Editor – proofreader. To-may-to – to-mah-to. They’re basically the same thing right?

Well, not so much.

It’s a pretty common misconception – many people say ‘proofread’ when they actually mean ‘edit’ and vice versa. But the two should never be confused. Although there are a few similarities – there’s actually quite a big difference between the two.

Dictionary definitions

According to Dictionary.com, the definitions are:

·               proof·read [proof-reed]


1.     to read (printers' proofs, copy, etc.) in order to detect and mark errors to be corrected.

·               ed·it [ed-it]


1.     to revise or correct, as a manuscript.

2.     to prepare (text) for publication by checking and improving its accuracy, clarity, etc


But what do they mean in practice?



Editors have a slightly more in depth look at your text. They will go through your copy and make sure that it is free of any mistakes or inconsistencies. Many people think that editing simply means finding and fixing all the spelling mistakes. It’s true that this is an important part of the job – but there are so many other elements that editors have to look out for.

They will go through text and generally improve the quality of writing and the way it flows. On top of fixing the spelling, punctuation, typos and other obvious mistakes – they fix the grammar and check that sentences make sense. They make sure the style and presentation is consistent and that names and dates are always treated the same. This means editors have to have a deeper understanding of the accepted style across various fields.


Proofreaders are somewhat like the final checking point before something goes off to publication. So once the copy has been written, and edited, a typesetter will produce a proof copy of the final product – article, brochure etc. The proofreader will then check it in conjunction with the copy to make sure that no mistakes were made in the typesetting and that the editor didn’t miss any mistakes in the original copy. Proofreaders have a specially trained eye for catching small errors that most our brains’ will just automatically correct. Another major different between an editor and a proofreader is that a proofreader has no editorial say. They simply highlight the errors they found and query it with the editors and typesetters. Proofreaders also have extra pressure to be extremely accurate because they are the last stage before publication.

It’s a good idea for any writer to have their work edited or proofread, because it’s even more difficult to spot mistakes in your own work.