What is proofreading and how does it improve your writing?

Proofreading is a term that gets thrown around a lot in education, business, job seeking, publishing and many other spheres. What exactly does it mean, though? Is it the same as editing? (Short answer: No, but editing is important, too.) Here's a look at the value of proofreading, the ease of getting it done online and the types of documents and projects that especially benefit from proofreading.

Proofreading Comes After Final Editing

Proofreading occurs when someone reviews a document for spelling errors, typos and formatting issues, among other problems. Proofreaders catch potential writing errors such as:

Proofreading comes after final editing. That's because editing can possibly introduce some errors into a document. Editing is both a big-picture and detailed review, and it focuses on clarity and consistency. Editors can and do identify Proofreading comes after final editing. That’s because editing can possibly introduce some errors into a document. Editing is both a big-picture and detailed review, and it focuses on clarity and consistency. Editors can and do identify and correct grammar errors and other writing and language issues, but editors serve a different function than proofreaders do. For example, editors may make suggestions about a document’s organization, diction, and flow. They might point out unclear intentions behind a character or claim. Proofreading takes place after editing to ensure that the final document reads well and is as error-free as possible.

There are actually several types of editing. In content editing, editors examine documents for big-picture ideas and may move entire sections around. This type of editing is also called substantive or developmental editing. It occurs early in the creation process.

Then there’s line editing, which focuses on language and text flow. Copy editing comes next, and copy editors perform many of the same duties proofreaders do. Copy editors follow style guides and ensure correct grammar. They may contact the authors if their text is unclear or ambiguous. Last is proofreading, with its focus on formatting, inconsistencies and nitty-gritty errors. One way to view proofreaders is that they double-check the work of copy editors. Even at this late stage, proofreaders still catch errors that would otherwise have been embarrassing.

The Ease of Online Proofreading

Online proofreading services offer convenience, speed and flexibility. You can enlist a proofreading company for research and conference papers, job search cover letters, admissions essays, abstracts, dissertations and almost any other kind of writing. Proofreading companies tend to offer both English editing and proofreading services to streamline these processes. Many proofreading services offer benefits such as these:

  1. Cost estimates before you pay anything
  2. Turnaround times of a day or less in many situations
  3. Editors who are native English speakers well-versed in relevant subject areas (English, biology, computer science, history, etc.)
  4. Proofreaders and editors who have editing certificates
  5. Style guide consistency, whether the formatting is AP, APA, MLA, Harvard or something else
  6. 24/7 customer support
  7. Client communication with the proofreader/editor
  8. Confidentiality and security

At Wordvice, we simplify the process of getting an instant price quote. Just choose your document type and input the word count to get an instant cost estimate in under 3 minutes.

Human Proofreading Is More Reliable Than Online Spelling and Grammar Software

Some authors might say, “I don't need proofreading. I just use MS Word's spell and grammar check functions." But this might not be the best way to think about it—you still need professional proofreading. That's true even if you use grammar and spell check programs such as Grammarly.

Human proofreading is almost always more thorough than grammar and spellcheck programs.

For example, spell and grammar programs tend to identify grammar errors that aren't actually errors. Meanwhile, misused homonyms such as “there,” "their" and "they're" can escape detection because they're spelled correctly. You can't count on MS Word to flag a sentence such as "They're dog is here." Grammarly does better, but it has its share of false positives. It also introduces erroneous suggestions to the review process. In short, computer software is no substitute for human eyes and human knowledge.

The Types of Documents, Papers and Projects That Always Need Proofreading

Professional proofreading is important for many types of documents, but you don't need it for everything. You're probably fine reviewing a casual homework assignment yourself. Similarly, a low-stakes class paper may not need polished proofreading. A high-stakes one might not either, depending on the grading rubric. However, if a fair chunk of the paper's grade (5% or more) depends on a lack of typos, spelling errors and the like, you may want to get professional proofreading. Always get proofreading for these types of documents:

  • Research papers
  • Dissertations
  • Theses
  • Journal or academic articles
  • Journal response/rebuttal letters
  • Submission cover letters
  • Abstracts
  • Conference papers
  • Admissions essays
  • Scholarship letters
  • Statement of Purpose essays for graduate school
  • Personal statements
  • LinkedIn bios and text
  • Resumes
  • Job search cover letters
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Book manuscripts
  • Policy proposals
  • Business proposals
  • Press releases and other media articles
  • Marketing materials
  • Blog posts
  • Website landing pages and other website content

As you can see, this is a lot of documents that require proofreading. Still, this list gives you an idea about the value of proofreading. Misspellings, typos and grammar errors can weaken your argument in, say, a research paper. If you’re looking for work, typos in your cover letter signal carelessness and a lack of self-awareness. You certainly don’t want to make a bad first impression on potential admissions committees at graduate schools or employers at a potential job position.

Consider proofreading for important group projects and papers that have gone through many levels of editing. You know the saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth. A project’s final editor should be able to smooth out any issues, making the project more cohesive. A proofreader should then serve as the final set of eyes for formatting, typos, parallelism, grammar and much more.

Proofreading comes last in the editing process and is critical for you to come across as knowledgeable and competent by eliminating all objective writing errors. No matter how well-versed you are in English or in writing, your work can always benefit from another set of eyes.