Proofreading or editing? How do you know which one you need? What is the difference? Most people use the two terms interchangeably, but there is technically a slight difference between them.

Think of editing as something you do all during the writing process, while proofreading is something you do right before you turn in your project.

Everyone has their way to work through the writing process. Let’s look at writing a novel. A typical pattern for someone might be to brainstorm ideas, then make an outline of the story. The next step would be to go ahead and write a first draft of the story.

Proofreading or Editing: How Do You Know Which One You Need?

The best way to go about that would be to just write it without trying to make too many corrections along the way—that’s the purpose of editing. Sometimes if too much time is spent editing while you’re writing, you can lose focus, drive, and risk your story falling flat. Once your rough draft is complete, now is the time to go back through and edit.

During the editing process, you’ll want to look for:

  1. Context—is your story complete?
  2. Is the point of view consistent?
  3. Are you reaching your audience?
  4. Does your story flow smoothly?
  5. Is the plot line resolved?
  6. How is the imagery?
  7. How is the character development?

Your Final Run-Through

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few things to consider while editing. When writing a novel, there is no set number of drafts. You keep polishing it until the writing is smooth, well-written, and all loose ends are tied up. However, before you send it off to the publisher, it must be proofread.

Proofreading is the final run-through before your writing is submitted. It is where you concentrate on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. You are dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s.” It is also where you polish your formatting and make sure you are consistent.

  1. Do you have the same font throughout the text?
  2. Are all of your chapter headings in the correct numerical order?
  3. If you are writing to submit to a publisher, be sure to get the specs they require for submission. Not all of them are the same.

Some people find it helpful to have another person look at it at the end stage to get a fresh perspective.

All in all, the editing process is more intensive, while proofreading catches those overlooked errors that you don’t want to make it all the way to the publisher. These procedures are necessary to produce a final polished piece of writing.

Originally posted 12/25/2008 and happily updated 11/15/2017. Thanks for reading!

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