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Editing vs. proofreading: What's the difference?

reading glasses on a stack of books

I'll admit, for a long time, I didn't know there was a difference between these two terms. Don't proofreaders do editing...? It wasn't until I worked on a team where we had a designated proofreader that I understood what their role was — and started learning what the differences are between editing and proofreading.

What’s editing?

When you think of editing, you probably picture someone using a red pen to catch any missed commas or misspelled words. Editing, though, is a much broader term. Some editors specialize in big-picture things, like the content and flow of a piece, while others focus more on the word choice and grammar.

Here's a closer look into a few types of editing: 

Developmental and structural editing

Developmental editing is usually the first step and mostly applies to longer pieces, like a book or academic paper. These edits focus on aspects such as overall themes, plot, setting, and character arcs. Similarly, structural editing also focuses on big-picture things, but more specifically on the order and flow of content. Sometimes these types of edits are done together. 

Copyediting and line editing

Copyediting and line editing are very similar. Copyediting usually refers more to grammar, punctuation, and consistency while line editing focuses more on style, word choices, and sentence flow. These types of edits are also often done together and are what I have the most experience doing.


For nonfiction pieces, fact-checking can be another important part of editing. As the name implies, fact-checking refers to ensuring that all factual information is correct. This may involve reviewing any reference material or going over factual information with anyone who was interviewed (I did this a lot when I worked as an editorial intern).

What's proofreading?

Proofreading is the final step in a piece. It's when you look everything over one final time before sending it to a printer or publishing it online. Proofreading is similar to editing, but rather than changing things for style, it's making changes to ensure everything is error free. 

I once read a book that I'm almost 100% sure was not proofed by anyone. One of the characters was named Elisabeth, but throughout one of the chapters, the spelling kept changing from "Elisabeth" to "Elizabeth" — going back and forth for several paragraphs. Sure, it's only one letter and easy to miss. An editor definitely may have missed that. But a proofreader shouldn't have! And for me, it was distracting enough to pull me out of the story.

Proofreading may also involve checking other things, such as catching design and format errors, broken links, etc. While I don't list proofreading as one of the main services I offer, this is something that can be an add-on if you decide to work with me.

Editing and proofreading are very similar, and there's definitely some overlap. It makes sense why it can be confusing to know the differences — or know exactly what you need. Whether or not you know what type of editing you need, send me a message and let's chat! I'd love to learn how I can help.


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