Editing or Proofreading?

Many people ask what the difference is between editing and proofreading. They are different, but I would say do both. However, if you are or have engaged a good writer, most of the editing has been accomplished and all you need is an excellent proofreader.

Editing is about content – the message, the voice of the writer, clear and concise writing, removing clutter and unnecessary words. It also reviews whether the writer has maintained a style; such as, language, academic, medical, or has followed a writing guide. By carefully reading, the editor may discover that a sentence or paragraph belongs elsewhere or needs to be eliminated. The editor will ensure that the piece flows, reads easily, the message is clear, and all the salient points and arguments are made effectively.

With both editing and proofreading, some changes are non-negotiable.

Here are the kinds of changes an editor might make without approval:

  • two spaces to one
  • spelling variants to [preferred dictionary]
  • automated bullets/numbering to manual (or vice versa)
  • font and style changes
  • official names, after commenting on the first correction
  • moving punctuation inside quotes or parentheses (or outside of them, as the situation or style warrants)
  • margins and line spacing
  • changing hyphens to dashes in number ranges
  • changing en-dashes or hyphens to em-dashes
  • changing spaces to non-breaking spaces
  • straight quote marks to curly ones
  • apostrophes to prime symbols
  • single quotes to double ones (British to North American style)
  • extra hard returns (especially when used to start a new page)
  • end punctuation in vertical lists
  • turning a typeset table into a formatted table

this partial list courtesy of copyediting.com

Proofreading is what happens after editing. It is the final step before printing or publication. Some of the elements of great proofreading are:

  • capitalization
  • consistency throughout
  • format
  • grammar
  • homonyms/homophones/homographs*
  • missing/redundant words
  • possession
  • pronoun and relative pronoun use
  • proper use of words
  • punctuation
  • spelling

(my list)

A good proofreader also goes through the writing with a fine-tooth comb and looks at the proper use of quotation marks, dashes, en-dashes, em-dashes, and verifies facts. Did the iPhone launch in 2007 or 2008? Does every comma have a purpose? (they are not just for pausing.) Are the day/date correct? Such as, “Monday, January 21.” Proofreaders have eagle eyes.

*Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings or spellings (fair-county, fair-reasonable.) Homophones are a type of homonym that also sound alike and have different meanings but have different spellings (cell, sell.)

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings (lie-untruth, lie-down.) Heteronyms are a type of homograph that are also spelled the same and have different meanings, but sound different (tear- as an eye; tear-to rip). (definitions, copyediting.com)

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