Editing or Proofreading: Which should you choose?

When deciding which professional editing company or freelance editor to choose to edit their work, many authors are unsure about which level of revision service they should choose. Is “editing” what’s most needed for a research paper? Or would “proofreading” sufficiently revise the work and prepare it for submission to journals? And what really are the differences between the two? The truth is that proofreading and editing are two difference segments of the same revision process, but they produce different results depending on the kind of document, and writers should be aware of what each service entails so that they can make the right choice when it comes to finalizing their important academic and professional work.

Here we highlight the differences between editing and proofreading and summarize key features of both, not only to assist our personal clients, but to provide a general understanding of this somewhat confusing process. For the purposes of this article, target writing will include academic documents (such as dissertations, journal manuscripts, literature reviews, and other research writing) and professional documents (such as CVs and resumes, business reports, and other business-related literature).

Although these are distinct in terms of content and presentation, the same rules of editing and proofreading can be applied to both. This article will also target authors new to the submission and publication process, such as students working on a dissertation or thesis; researchers writing about their study; and professionals writing marketing content or articles in industry journals. All authors can at some point benefit from editing and/or proofreading from a third party to polish their work. We hope this article helps authors make a more informed choice between editing and proofreading services.

  1. What is editing? The editing process involves an editor who is deeply familiar with the conventions and rules of written English revising the text and suggesting ways to improve the quality of the writing in terms of style, voice, and natural expression or “flow.” Editors also try to decrease wordiness and sharpen the impact of each word, substituting vocabulary terms and refining phrases and sentences. After editing (also called “language editing,” “copy-editing,” or “line editing”), your writing will be sharper and more readable, your expressions and terminology more precise, your language less repetitive and awkward, and the overall quality of your writing simply better and more professional.

    Editing should essentially show your reader that you have no problems writing in English, even if you are a non-native English speaker. High-quality writing is important in all academic and professional fields—editing focuses on the holistic aspects that make up “good” writing. When journal editors, researchers, or professional peers read your work, they ask themselves some primary questions about your writing to assess its quality. Here are just a few questions that focus on language and style:
    • “Does the work use proper terms to express the intended ideas?” For example, if the writing sounds like the adjectives and nouns were plucked from a thesaurus rather than being carefully chosen to express a given idea, the reader might recognize this and begin to question the appropriateness of other terms the author has used.
    • “Does the tone and voice of the writing match the content and the intended audience?” If you are drafting a highly technical computer science article for a journal, using casual language such as idioms and colloquial expressions will blunt the effectiveness of your writing.
    • “Is the writing wordy or redundant?” A sophisticated reader can usually tell right away when filler words are being added to fluff up the writing. They can also pick up on repeated terms and phrases that don’t add anything to the writing. Many journal manuscripts are rejected for basic language issues such as these.
    • “Are terminology and formatting applied consistently and appropriately?” Terms spelled differently throughout the text; different punctuation formatting applied; and changes in term meaning and usage in a research paper are all red flags to academic readers. These issues must be addressed during the editing stage.
    • “Is much of the writing written in the passive voice?” Although the passive voice is often used in research papers (especially in the Methods section), the active voice is generally preferred in most texts, as it makes the writing more concise and “present,” and usually more compelling for readers. There are a lot more questions in the minds of readers of academic documents, but these few writing issues above demonstrate how many important writing factors there are to focus on—and how authors can overlook them while drafting. Luckily, a good editor is also trained to find these writing issues and fix them through meticulous rephrasing, reordering, and revision. As long as the meaning and intention of the work is maintained, there is a lot that a good academic editor can do to improve a text.
While editing and proofreading have a lot in common, there are some substantive differences between the two processes.

What is proofreading?

If editing is the artful correction of vocabulary, style, and flow, proofreading consists in fixing objective errors in language that mostly exist on the level of the word (spelling, capitalization, punctuation) or sentence (wrong syntax, incorrect placement of modifiers, and most grammar errors). Proofreading is almost always the final step in the revision process. Think of it as a final quality check on the writing before you send it to your target reader or for publication. In sum, proofreading is the process of correcting errors in grammar, spelling, mechanics, punctuation, and formatting.

As we have shown above, most target readers will be on the lookout for language errors in your writing. But whereas errors in style and flow can still be overlooked depending on the publication or purpose of the document, objective language errors must ALWAYS be identified and corrected to ensure a professional manuscript or business document.

Here are a few of the questions academic proofreaders ask when they receive a document for proofreading:

  • “Are there errors in spelling or capitalization?” Misspelled words and incorrect application of punctuation rules are extremely common in early drafts of academic work.
  • “Is punctuation used correctly?” Keep in mind that periods, commas, semicolons, colons, quotations, question marks, hyphens, dashes, and other punctuation marks all play crucial roles in English writing and must therefore be used correctly and consistently.
  • “Are homophones (words that sounds alike but have different spellings) avoided?” “There,” “their” and “they’re”; “road” and “rode”; “meet” and “meat”—what do these groups of words all have in common? They are all homophones and their misuse can often be overlooked by non-native English-speaking authors.
  • “Is formatting applied correctly and consistently?” Formatting includes the basic “rules” set out in the conventions of your academic field or the style guide used for specific journals. These can include issues with formatting style, English type (US or UK), capitalization rules, and even font and indentation. Good proofreaders understand most of the rules that academic and professional writers must follow. And if they don’t, they will research them and apply them during proofreading.

A common misconception about proofreading is that it is easy and can even be effectively done by a grammar or spellcheck tool, either online or included in your word processing software. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Grammar and spellcheck programs (even advanced ones like Grammarly) do a good job of finding spelling errors, but they will miss most homophones and overlook grammar errors in complex sentences. Eliminating all objective errors in writing takes a deep understanding of how the terms and symbols should be correctly applied in English-language documents. An amateur editor or someone without a lot of qualification or editing experience might find and fix most of these errors. But if even one or two errors remain, this can still distract readers and prevent journal editors or other researchers from reading further.

Again, proofreading is usually the final step in the revision process, and thus it is important for academic texts bound for publication—be it a research paper or literature review, academic manuscript, a business document, a thesis or dissertation, or even a novel. For writing to be effective and clear, it must be free of objective errors and/or issues with language. This is also important to ensuring your long-term success as an author of academic or professional texts.

Your best bet for high-quality proofreading is a professional editor or proofreader with years of experience. Even better is an editor with expertise in the subject area of your academic paper or business document. For instance, a proofreader (or editor) with a biotechnology background is far more likely to catch misspellings of key terms in your biotech paper. The more sophisticated and detail-oriented the proofreader, the more accurate and consistent your English proofreading and editing results will be.

Which service should you choose: editing or proofreading?

As we have seen, editing and proofreading can be two parts of the same revision process, or they can be applied independently to a given work. While editing essentially IMPROVES your writing, proofreading PERFECTS your writing. For this reason, many authors receive both editing and proofreading before finalizing their work.

Most research authors receive editing first, usually after completely their first full draft of a work; they then receive proofreading after all language edits have been applied and immediately before submission or publication of the work. While this process of consecutive editing and proofreading is recommended for authors who have the time and resources, most writers cannot afford both services; and still others need additional editing following rejection by a journal. But if you are reading this, you probably are wondering which service to choose if you can only choose one.

Wordvice offers all-inclusive proofreading editing in one step, as opposed to receiving both services separately.

Factors to consider when choosing editing or proofreading

The most important question you should ask when deciding between editing and proofreading is whether you consider yourself a strong and competent writer. You will want to answer the following:

  • Am I highly familiar with the basic conventions of English writing?
  • Do I have a firm command of the language in speaking and daily writing?
  • Is my writing as natural as that of a native speaker to most readers?
  • Do I make relatively few errors in grammar and style (not typos, but errors due to lack of understanding the rules)?
  • Do I consider my writing to be “very good”?

If you can answer “yes” to ALL these questions, then proofreading is probably sufficient for your document. However, if there are any areas where your writing could be developed or improved— e.g., vocabulary, diction, language use, natural expressions, and conventions related to your academic field or industry—opting for language editing could be a good idea as well. After all, even native English-speaking authors with years of writing experience still rely on the guidance of a good editor from time to time.

I am a “typical” author—do I need language editing?

Editors and editing companies who have dealt with many authors from various academic backgrounds and with varying levels of writing ability can attest that certain kinds of authors require certain types of language revision. The following section provides some insight into the editing needs of certain authors.

Editing and proofreading are essential for these authors
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) authors of all works. Non-native speakers of English tend to have a difficult time grasping some of the nuances of writing in English and using all the terminology (especially jargon and technical terminology) in the right way every time. Unless they have been speaking, reading, learning, and writing in English in a professional context for years, the ESL author will almost certainly require both editing and proofreading for any important work they plan to submit, from a dissertation or thesis, to a research manuscript, to a university course essay assignment. Even ESL writers who have published work in academic journals or written books can still encounter terms and expressions that can confuse them. Therefore, all ESL authors should make use of professional editing and proofreading. (Recommended Wordvice Service: Academic Editing Services)
  • Authors of books or long manuscripts. Novelists, non-fiction writers, and over writers of books should first seek editing and then proofreading before they publish their work. Additionally, writers of relatively long research manuscripts (over 5,000 words) bound for publication in journals can benefit from style revisions by a good editor. Editing services for individual authors (or “book editing services”) are a good solution for very long texts, which tend to have at least a handful of awkward or unclear sentences. Since most publishing houses employ editors to review book manuscripts, publishing a book, novelette, or long essay without receiving editing can negatively impact your work. (Recommended Wordvice Service: Editing Services for Authors)
Editing would be helpful for these authors (but perhaps not essential)
  • Academic authors submitting a research manuscript for publication. Both ESL authors and native English-speaking authors of academic manuscripts intended for publication can almost always benefit from the perspective and advice of a good editor. Whether a paper is the humanities, the social sciences, or the natural sciences, academic and scientific manuscripts are almost universally edited (in sum or in part) by an academic peer or by a professional editor. Although many professors, researchers, and students are strong and confident writers, language editing improves the quality of ANY writing and allows the content of your work—your study’s arguments; your paper’s background; or the insights of the Discussion section—to be expressed clearly and impactfully. Academic editing also has the advantage of giving you insights from editors with expertise in your subject area (or a related one), meaning that your editor’s suggestions and feedback are likely more reliable than those of a generalist editor would be. (Recommended Wordvice Service: Manuscript Editing Services)
  • Businesses and business professionals. Depending on the industry, the product or service, and the target consumer, a business may have a great need for excellent writing, or it may have minimal need. However, with online websites and platforms becoming the face of most companies these days, many businesses are realizing that online marketing copy is essential in enticing new customer and clients.

    Depending on the amount of text, the writing ability of your company’s copywriters, and the objectives you have for your writing content, your business needs might very well include both editing (language editing and line editing) and proofreading or copy-editing. (Recommended Wordvice Service: Business and Corporate Editing Services)
Proofreading alone is probably sufficient for these authors
  • Students, researchers, and individual authors with strong writing and editing skills. Many academics and graduate students have sharpened their academic writing skills over a period of years and have become proficient in both writing and editing their academic papers. For these authors (most of whom have edited their own work or that of their peers), proofreading to eliminate objective grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and formatting errors will be sufficient in finalizing their work. However, these authors should not be overly confident that their writing is perfect. If you are only receiving proofreading, the writing should be of “publication quality”—only proofreading should be needed to remove any remaining mistakes and inconsistencies in the text. (Recommended Wordvice Service: Academic Editing Services)
  • Authors of fiction and non-fiction who have already received editing. It might go without saying, but if you have already received extensive language editing for your manuscript and it is basically ready to go to the press for publication, then you still need proofreading, and that might be all you need. It is especially important that books and other documents for sale be absolutely free of errors in language, punctation, or typography. Any book reviewer can negatively impact the career of a novelist by pointing out the shoddy editing and proofreading in their book. (Recommended Wordvice Service: Editing Service for Authors)

Can I combine editing and proofreading into one step?

Although many editing companies divide their services into distinct “editing” and “proofreading” services with different prices and turnaround times depending on the service (proofreading is generally cheaper and takes less time), other companies offer “all-in” editing services that combine both proofreading and editing into one multi-part revision step. These kinds of services are becoming increasingly popular due to the availability of academic experts who have turned to freelance editing and proofreading online.

Although there are a lot of editing and proofreading companies out there to choose amongst, few of these services are equipped with language editors with years of experience and holding degrees in backgrounds related to your specific academic subject area. Wordvice Editing Service is one of the few companies who has expert editors with expertise hundreds of subdisciplines and who assigns your paper to the most qualified person to edit your document. Regardless of the kind of editing or proofreading you are seeking, Wordvice has the service for you.

Wordvice Editing and Proofreading Services