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Difference between proofreading and editing

The Difference Between Proofreading and Editing

After having written a good portion of their memoir, writers will sometimes begin to wonder if it is time to hire a writing professional to work with them to get the manuscript ready to go out into the world. At this stage, they may ask, “What’s the difference between proofreading and editing? And, how do I know which one I need?”

What Is Proofreading?

Proofreading is the more technical, nutsy-boltsy end of editing. Someone who is an editor will often also undertake to proofread a manuscript. Proofreading is concerned with mechanics:  spelling, punctuation, noun/verb agreement, other grammar problems, consistency (abbreviations, digits vs. numbers that are spelled out as words, etc.), obvious breaks from styling (inconsistencies in fonts, line spacing, spacing between words, and margins), and factual errors (dates, place names, historical facts).

Obviously, proofreading requires a solid foundation in grammar, vocabulary, and general knowledge. It requires an eye for detail. Proofreaders refer often to the following in hard copy or on the internet: a dictionary, an atlas, and an encyclopedia.

What Exactly Is the Difference Between Proofreading and Editing ?

There is a huge difference between proofreading and editing.

Proofreading is often what clients say they want when they really are looking for editing. The use of the term may simply be a misnomer on their part.

Yes, editing can contain everything listed above as proofreading (although editors are usually upfront in telling you that you need to hire a proofreader after they are through with your memoir). The Editing process, however, is different. It is really about what you are saying—and by extension how you are saying it. Editors look for

  • solid development in timeline,
  • cause/effect relationships, details of setting, etc.,
  • clarity of writing (including rewriting suggestions or actual rewriting to eliminate obscurity, imprecision, evasions),
  • appropriateness and consistency of point of view,
  • the pacing of the story so that parts that lag are excised or made more dramatic.

Editors will critique the manuscript as a whole and its likely impact on readers, assess its pitch to the intended audience (does this match the interests of the author’s focus audience or does it miss it?), rewriting suggestions to bring out the author’s intent, suggestions for writing in scenes, and suggestions to shape the story more effectively.

Before hiring a professional editor to work with your manuscript, make certain you understand the work your manuscript needs at the point you are with it. (Wanting to have your memoir be finished is not the same as having a memoir that is actually finished.) It is a waste of time and money to get a line-by-line review of the copy—spelling, grammar, punctuation—when what you need is developmental editing—a helping hand with making the story more vivid, deeper, interesting and meaningful. You do not want to have all your periods and commas in place when what you really need is better text—those changes to create a better text will subsequently need to be proofread again for periods and commas, etc.

A common error in judgement on the writer’s part is to believe you are ready for proofreading when what you need is a developmental editor. Most writers think they are further along in the process than they are. This is natural enough as all of us who have spent a long time writing want the book finished—but we need to hold off  thinking that it is actually finished.

Editing Is a Developmental Experience

Working with an editor is appropriate as you are working on revisions of the manuscript. (If you need help with the first draft, you ought to engage a coach.) Editing is a developmental experience. Your story will be deeper and more interesting for it.

Proofreading is a service you need when you are confident that the text conveys the story you want to convey and that it embodies your theme. (Often, your editor will tell you that the story is ready to go to a proofreader.) Proofreading is last in the line of the services you need to make use of before sending your memoir out into the world.

Good luck with your writing and remember to respect the difference between proofreading and editing. Your memoir will be better for it.

Are you really ready for proofreading? Great!
But are you jumping over editing?
for a free Editing Assessment.

Action Steps

1. Visit the  Memoir Editing pages

2. Also visit the Memoir Proofreading pages.

3. Call 207-353-5454 today for a free consultation about how we can collaborate to get your memoir written or email me at [email protected].

4. Sign up for a 3-hour trial of Memoir Editing or the 1-hour trial of Proofreading.

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