Whether you’re a first-time author or are just learning about the publishing world, one big question is the meaning of the terms editing and proofreading. An editor edits copy, right? What about big-name editors of the large publishing houses? Who corrects errors in final manuscripts?
The truth is, editing can mean a few different things in the realm of publishing. For our purposes, editing will refer to the line-by-line copyedit of a manuscript, including a focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Proofreading, on the other hand, is another term that can confuse writers. Though editing and proofreading are not interchangeable, there are some similarities. So, what’s the difference?
What is editing?
Editing aims to provide correct and error-free language, focusing on sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, word choice, language use, and consistency. Editing will often include feedback on the structure, style, argument, and tone of the content. For example, an editor may edit any passive sentences (the button was pressed by Jim) and replace with an active sentence structure (Jim pressed the button).
At the heart of editing is ensuring that phrases and words have been used correctly and that they match the audience the text is being written for. Clear and concise sentences, and clarity of meaning, are what the editor looks for and changes accordingly. Editors will also ensure that elements like treatment of words and capitalization are used consistently throughout the text.
Editors often query the author in the text or provide suggestions as they edit via comments in the document. However, this process will vary based on what the publisher prefers for author-editor communication.
Put simply, editing makes the quality of the writing better.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is generally less involved than copyediting, and is solely meant to scan the text for the final, generally minor, errors. This includes a final check for typos as well as spelling and punctuation errors. Proofreading usually takes less time and is thus less expensive for authors, but it’s still a crucial part of the manuscript preparation process.
Proofreading takes place after the initial in-depth edit to catch any surface errors that the copyeditor or editor missed. This is how editing and proofreading overlap—both an editor and a proofreader are looking for mistakes. Usually, the text is in almost-final form at the proofreading stage, and a proofreader’s job is to catch any typos or formatting consistency issues.
It’s important to note that these roles can change from publisher to publisher and from project to project. If both an editor and a proofreader cannot be hired because of budget restrictions, for example, the proofreading stage may also be performed by the editor or the author. Writers should consider how high of a priority it is to produce clean, valuable content, whether online or in print, and create an editing system that works for their audience.
Having two sets of eyes on a manuscript ensures that the text is well-written and won’t distract readers with a lot of mistakes or confusion. While editors and proofreaders perform different tasks in the manuscript preparation process, both of these services are crucial to producing high-quality, error-free text. Many online editing service companies offer a round of editing at one price, and a round of proofreading on the same document at a discounted price.