The Difference Between Editing and Proofreading

Editors often get first-time writers coming to them with a “finished” manuscript and asking for a proofread. Now, proofreading is a great, great thing that helps books look pretty and go down easy. But here’s the problem: “proofreading” doesn’t mean what you think it means.


Proofreading is the last typographical step before a book goes to print. A proofreader simply examines the final manuscript for typos, misspelled words, and punctuation errors, like a glorified (and more accurate) spell-check. And at that stage in the process, the manuscript shouldn’t have many, because it should have already been edited––preferably many times.


Once you’ve gone through a few drafts of your book, it’s crucial to turn it over to a writing group or professional editor to get a fresh pair of eyes on it. An editor will consider your story from the angle of craft, evaluating whether it is smooth, effective, and satisfying, and will also work with your language on the sentence level to improve its flow and style. In addition, an editor will perform a copyedit, which looks at your writing on a more technical level to catch errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and to ensure it is stylistically consistent, usually adhering to either a style guide (like the Chicago Manual of Style) or to a publication house’s established style.


Many writers and editors prefer to go through a few rounds of developmental editing, focusing on the overall flow of the book and how its language serves it, before getting to a copyedit, although some writers find it very helpful to work on identifying and correcting errors as they revise in order to hone their skills. But regardless of the order, your book should go through at least a few rounds of serious revision before you’re ready to call it final and hand it off to a proofreader.


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