Because they both have to do with identifying and fixing mistakes in writing, it can be easy to think of editing and proofreading as one and the same (or at least, interchangeable). But they actually serve different purposes and should be done at different times.
- Proofreading is a final step, while editing is done during and immediately after writing. There's no point in being anal about the details (proofreading) if you are going to edit them out in a later version.
- Editing tackles all writing and readability issues, while proofreading focuses on tying up loose ends. Many times, a document will be in its final form before it's proofread, meaning that major restructuring would be a lot of work, so proofreading focuses on making sure all the little details are right.
- Proofreading checks format consistency while editing usually does not. The proofreading stage handles identifying errors or discrepancies in format.
- When working with professionals, editing will include suggestions for content, while proofreading sticks to the basics. Editing is a more in-depth process and offers opportunities to strengthen content; proofreading doesn't address content—it focuses on correctness of form.
When you're working on your own piece, editing and proofreading tend to run together, both happening until the last possible second. And we get it. You want your piece to be perfect in every way! But believe us—leaving time to give each document one final, separate proofread will be the best thing you can do. Or consider having someone else look at it. Our next post will discuss when you should hire a professional proofreader.