Proofreading and editing are two terms that are often confused—even by the people performing these tasks! The words are definitely not interchangeable, however. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is, or if you need to know in order to give someone instructions on just exactly what to do with your paper, then read on to discover the distinctions.
Can You See the Forest for the Trees?
Has anyone ever told you that “you can’t see the forest for the trees”? If so, then what they were really trying to tell you was that you were so focused on the details (the trees) that you were ignoring the big picture (the forest). This is a good analogy for the difference between editing and proofreading, though I’m certainly not insinuating that editors aren’t detail-oriented. They happen to be laser-focused on the big-picture details and not the small details on which proofreaders obsess.
Editing: The Forest
The editing process includes taking an entire-forest, big-picture look at the paper as a whole. Editors check to make sure the ideas in the paper are expressed coherently, the text is well organized, and the reader transitions easily from one topic to the next. For research papers, academic editors look at the content of the paper to make sure all the arguments are logical and supported by credible sources. Editors also examine the sentence structure and correct awkward phrasing, remove passive voice construction, and check for any grammatical errors.
Proofreading: The Trees
Unlike editors, proofreaders carefully examine each tree/word to check for things like spelling, typos, formatting errors, and the like. In this way, proofreading takes a much more aesthetic approach to the paper. Not to throw too many analogies at you, but if you think of your paper as a wrecked car, the proofreading process would be like the paint and body work required to get the car looking good again whereas the editing process would be akin to pulling up the hood and fixing whatever is broken to make the car run smoothly.
When you look for an editing service, make sure that they consider proofreading part of their job as well. When you receive your paper back, it should be coherent, well-organized, grammatically sound and free of any pesky spelling errors, typos, and formatting issues. In essence, it needs to be ready to submit so that you receive the accolades or grade you deserve for all of your hard work!