What’s the difference between proofreading and editing? Many people assume they are one and the same, but they’re not. Does it matter which option you choose when you have a document edited?

Well, that depends on what you want from your editing experience. Do you want nothing more than a quick read-through to catch silly mistakes that your word processing program’s spell/grammar check missed, or do you want a thorough examination of your document—one that looks for  grammatical gaffes, inconsistencies in your usage, and continuity issues?

Let me use an example to explain: suppose you’ve written a great novel and want to have it edited…or proofread—you’re not sure which.  Proofreading will only cover things like your use of a comma when a semi-colon is called for, or that silly little slip-up where you typed “three” instead of “there.”  Proofreading would also correct grammatical mistakes, like if you typed “they was” instead of “they were.”

Now, on the other hand, editing would cover all of the above, plus rewording awkward phrases, looking for really embarrassing gaps in continuity—can’t have the love of Bob’s life be called Sue on page 3 and Sally on page 53!—and even checking for consistency in use of phrasing and so forth: if Wally’s grammar isn’t the best in the world in Chapter 1, you don’t want to slip up and have him start talking like a British aristocrat in Chapter 5! Editing also provides feedback, explaining why changes were made to keep Wally sounding like the less-educated character you originally introduced to your readers, in addition to alerting you to phrases or scenes that might offend those readers.

Which option is best for your needs?  Only you can determine that, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution when choosing between editing and proofreading from a firm such as FirstEditing (www.firstediting.com).  Sure, you’ll pay a bit more for an editing job than you will for a simple proofreading, but you also get better results. That old adage “You get what you pay for” is certainly true, and when the fate of your months or years of hard work hangs in the balance, it’s best to choose the level of editing that will give you the best chance of seeing your work in print.

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