Editing vs Proofreading: Key Differences

What is the difference between proofreading and editing?

Proofreading and editing are two different segments of a continuous revision process, but they produce different results depending on the kind of document being revised. Proofreading includes correction of grammar and punctuation, while editing (or copy editing) fixes issues with style, vocabulary, and formatting, and can sometimes include revision of content and organization. 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.

This article highlights the differences between proofreading vs editing and summarizes key features of both. 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 documents differ in content and presentation, the same rules of editing and proofreading can be applied to both.

While editing and proofreading have a lot in common, there are some substantive differences between the two processes.

What is Editing?

Editing involves the revision of text and suggestions for ways to improve the quality of the writing in terms of style, voice, and natural expression or “flow.” Language editors or copy editors must be deeply familiar with the conventions and rules of written English. Editors also try to decrease wordiness and sharpen the impact of each word, substituting vocabulary terms and refining phrases and sentences.

What does editing do for a paper?

After editing (also called language editing, copyediting, or line editing), your writing will be sharper and more readable. Your expressions and terminology will be more precise. Your language will become less repetitive and awkward. And the overall quality of your writing will be simply stronger 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. 

Copy editors focus on style and vocabulary issues

When journal editors, researchers, or professional peers read your work, they ask themselves some primary questions about your writing to assess its quality:

  • Does the work use proper terms to express the intended ideas?
  • Does the tone and voice of the writing match the content and the intended audience?
  • Is the writing wordy or redundant? 
  • Is much of the writing written in the passive voice?

Readers of academic documents will ask more questions than those above. But these few writing issues listed here illustrate just how many language errors can exist in a document, and how easily 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 much that a good paper editing service can do to improve a text.

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading consists in fixing errors in language on the level of the word (spelling, capitalization, punctuation) or sentence (wrong syntax, incorrect placement of modifiers, and most grammar errors). Proofreading is usually the final step in the revision process and is a final quality check on the writing before you send it to your target reader or for publication. 

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.

Proofreaders focus on the following issues:

  • Are there errors in spelling or capitalization? 
  • Is punctuation used correctly?
  • Are homophones (words that sound alike but have different spellings) avoided? 
  • 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 guides, 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 spelling or grammar checker, either online or included in your word processing software. While grammar and spellcheck programs do a good job of finding cursory spelling and punctuation errors, 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. 

Proofreading vs Editing: Which do you need?

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.

All authors can at some point benefit from editing and/or proofreading from a third party to polish their work. The comparison table below lists the steps involved in proofreading vs editing.

Proofreading FeaturesEditing Features
-Performed as the final step on the final draft of the document.
-Addresses objective writing errors
-Corrects spelling, grammar, capitalization, and mechanics errors
-Has consistent rules and is universally accepted
-Does not require collaboration with the author
-Is quicker than editing
-Performed on the first or final draft of a document, continuing until the document is completed
-Addresses core features of the writing style, flow, tone, and voice
-Can include editing for content and organization
-Enhances the vocabulary and makes the writing clearer and stronger
-Can include word count reduction
-Might involve collaboration with the author 
-Takes longer than proofreading

Factors to consider when deciding between editing vs proofreading

The most important question to ask when deciding between editing and proofreading is whether you consider yourself a strong and competent writer. 

Consider 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 academic writing conventions related to your academic field or industry—opting for language editing could be a good idea as well.

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

Do I need copy editing or proofreading?

Copy 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 Services by Author/Text

Author/TextRecommended Editing/Proofreading Service
English as a Second Language (ESL) authors of all works. Academic Editing Services
Editing Services for Authors
Academic authors submitting a research manuscript for publicationManuscript Editing Services
Businesses and professionalsBusiness Editing Services
Document Editing Services
Students, researchers, and individual authors with strong writing and editing skillsAcademic Editing Services
College and University students who need help with course assignmentsAssignment Editing Services
Students applying to college and university programsEssay Editing Services
Authors of fiction and non-fiction who have already received content editingBook Editing Services
Jobseekers and academic candidatesCV/Resume Editing Services

Combining editing and proofreading into one step

Many editing companies divide their services into distinct “editing” and “proofreading” services with different prices and turnaround times depending on the service. Other companies offer “all-in” editing services that combine both proofreading and editing into one multi-part revision step. 

Wordvice Editing Service is one of the few companies that combines editing and proofreading into one cohesive process of language editing. We employ expert editors with subject expertise in hundreds of academic subdisciplines, and we assign your paper to the most qualified and suitable person to edit your document. Regardless of the kind of editing or proofreading you are seeking, Wordvice has the service for you.

We hope this article helps you make a more informed choice between editing vs proofreading services.