Edit vs. Proofread: What is the Difference?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Confused about the difference between editing and proofread? That’s understandable. The terms are often used interchangeably as though they meant the same thing. But they don’t. So how are they different?

Editing and proofreading are two different ways to make sure that a piece of writing is good. When you look through your writing for spelling, grammar, and other mistakes, you are editing. The final check before you submit or send something is proofreading.

Ready to compare the two and learn best practices for both? Let’s get started.

What is Editing?

Editing is the process of improving or refining a text to make sure it is clear and free of errors before you consider it finished. Editing involves improving the accuracy and clarity of writing as well as examining it for any potential errors in grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. For shorter pieces of writing, a writer usually focuses on mistakes, clarity, and accuracy.

However, that type of editing, sometimes called copy editing, is only one type of editing.

A writer wears all the editing hats for a smaller project, such as a college paper, magazine article, or blog post. But book length manuscripts can have numerous editors, each serving a different purpose.

Developmental Editing.

A developmental editor examines a manuscript’s big picture. They provide feedback on what works and what falls flat. Writers might use a developmental editor after they have written an outline or fairly early in the writing process.

They apply big picture thinking and focus on what works and what needs elaboration. Developmental editors don’t concern themselves with grammar, punctuation, or spelling.

Here’s an example of developmental editing for this post: I wrote the first two paragraphs and then the headings. When I looked over the headings, I realized this editing section needed elaboration.

Structural Editing.

Structural editing is closely related to developmental editing. While the developmental editor focuses on the big picture, the structural editor looks at the manuscript’s organization, development of characters, plot, or ideas. Writers use a structural editor after they have completed a first draft.

When I finished the first draft, I reread it, looking for sections that needed to be elaborated. I also considered whether the sections should be reordered.

Line Editing.

Line editing  focuses on the language of your text. This editor will look at your word choice and sentence structure.  They focus on the flow of your text and your word choice.  A line editor looks at style, not mechanics.  

My line editing for this article focused on sentence and paragraph structure. As explained in a post about sentence length, internet writing should aim to keep most sentences under 50 words.

Readers are also helped by shorter paragraphs. It increases scanability, which is how most readers approach text now. Nielsen Norman Group has done extensive testing on this, and content writers and bloggers should check it out.

Also, I looked for sentences that could be shortened, relying on the Paramedic Method outlined in another post.

Copy Editing.

We have arrived at what most people think is editing.  A copy editor examines your writing, looking for grammatical, spelling, and sentence structure problems.  They are sometimes called “mechanical editors” because they are more concerned with correctness than content.

Although writing teachers say not to do it, I do a lot of copyediting on the fly. Perhaps it’s my years of experience as an editor and teacher that make me do so. Also, I worry that if I don’t correct my mistakes then, I will forget them later.

Editing tools like Grammarly and Hemingway help writers with copy editing (and some line editing).

When you finish editing, your writing is almost ready to be published. But not so fast—take the final step and proofread.

Edit vs. Proofread: So what is Proofreading?

Proofreading is the final step before a manuscript is handed to someone (like a student to a teacher or a memo/report to the boss) or published as a book, magazine, or journal article. You should carefully review the final text with the goal of catching small mistakes not caught in the editing process.

Proofreading is not the most exciting part of the writing process. However, you put a lot of effort into creating a document that you judge is ready for publication. This final step ensures that you avoid glaring errors that will distract your readers.

A Tip for Editing

Beside the paramedic editing method mentioned earlier, the best tip for editing is to take a break and step away. Do something not related to writing—wash the dishes, take a walk, pay the bills.

Even if you use a tool like Grammarly, you still need time to read your writing from the perspective of a first-time reader.

A Tip for Proofreading

You finished writing, went through the editing process, did a grammar check, and now you’re done, ready to hit send or submit. Stop.

Proofread first. Look for mistakes, large and small. MAybe the manuscript contains inAdvertent capitalization. Perhaps you hit the space bar too many times. What about too many question marks???

One tried-and-true method proofreaders use is to read backwards. Proofreaders once read backwards word by word, but spell-checkers have rendered that unnecessary. Instead, start at the end of the manuscript and read each sentence or paragraph out of order.

If you’re in a hurry, you can also use this method as a shortcut to reading your writing with fresh eyes.


Hopefully this post helps you understand the difference between the words edit vs. proofread.

If I missed something while proofing this blog post, let me know in the comments. And if you want more writing tips, check out 5 Writing Tips Writers Should Know.

As always, please share on your preferred social media platform.

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