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Proofreading vs editing: What's the difference?

Evelyn Levisohn

Apr 10, 2019

Writing an essay or dissertation? Here's what you need to know about the difference between proofreading and editing.
Writing an essay or dissertation? Here's what you need to know about the difference between proofreading and editing.

Just finished writing your dissertation or essay? Congratulations! However, there's still a little way to go before you can hand it in. It's always essential to check over any piece of work to make sure you have the best chance of success. But should you edit your essay, or proofread it, or both? Many people use these terms interchangeably, however proofreading and editing don't quite mean the same thing - and they won't produce the same results. 

Proofreading is the correcting of surface errors such as grammar, spelling and punctuation. While it still requires a nuanced understanding of the English language, it differs from editing, which seeks to improve the overall quality of writing by enhancing flow, readability and structure. 

Here's a deeper look at what each involves. 

To edit or proofread a text requires an in-depth knowledge of the English language. Editing and proofreading both require a nuanced understanding of the English language.

Proofreading

Proofreading is often considered a science. Proofreading checks work to identify all errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. It also picks up instances of inconsistent terminology, formatting and referencing. Proofreading tends to result in minor, aesthetic adjustments to text rather than big changes. 

However, proper proofreading still requires specialised knowledge and experience to be effective (and certainly goes far beyond what your computer's spell-checking software can do). This is because the human brain is very good at correcting errors automatically, so when you look at a piece of writing you may not register its mistakes, especially when it comes to your own work. We've all seen those memes where some letters are jumbled up inside words, but you can still somehow read them!

Any assignment should include a proofreading stage to ensure it is error free before it's marked. Proofreading is also an opportunity for you to start recognising errors you make consistently so that you can avoid those mistakes in future

Grammar, punctuation and spelling tend to be the main focus for proofreaders. Proofreading tends to focus on surface errors such as spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes.

Editing

If proofreading is a science, editing is an art. Editing is the process of improving the overall quality of writing to make an essay the best it can possibly be. It uses much more creativity and often considers the feelings of the work's audience. As such, editing can cause extensive changes to text, bringing up questions such as:

  1. Have you chosen the most appropriate words to convey your meaning effectively?
  2. Have you used the passive voice?
  3. Is the tone right for the audience?
  4. Are there unnecessary words or overlong sentences?
  5. Can the structure of the essay be changed to make the argument more persuasive?

Editing is all about making sure the meaning and ideas in a piece of work are conveyed in the best possible way, for the audience. Editing might also involve looking more closely at the content itself, using specialist knowledge of the subject to clarify text, and often check facts as well. In addition, it's another chance to look closely at spelling and grammar, just as with proofreading. 

When editing your own work, it's best to put it aside for a day or two so you can look at it with a fresh perspective (or with the added help of feedback from someone else). Otherwise, you are usually too attached to the assignment to be able to make objective decisions about the words on the page and the structure that you've used. 

A popular technique of the drafting process is to edit first and proofread last, as a final, final step before you hand in your work. And definitely reach out for help during this process, if you can. A second set of eyes can be invaluable, for both editing and proofreading.

Online essay feedback in less than 24 hours

Studiosity's Writing Feedback service helps with both editing and proofreading your own work.  When you have read and re-read your writing over and over, it can be very hard to find mistakes or to see clear ways to improve your overall assignment. 

Our writing specialists are available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to review your written drafts. Their feedback will help you identify spelling and grammatical errors (including ones you might be making often without realising), structural issues, punctuation, and other core areas of academic literacy such as referencing that could be preventing you from getting your best marks.

With a detailed written guidance and pointers alongside highlighted, in-text annotations throughout your actual document, our specialists use examples from within your own work to illustrate their feedback. It can help you tackle both the editing and proofreading stages of improving your work before you hand it in for marking. And what's more, we'll send your draft back to you in under 24 hours, so you can meet even the tightest deadlines!

The best part? You may already have access to Studiosity for free, thanks to your education provider!

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