What are the basic differences between editing and proofreading?

Editing and proofreading are basically the same skill, aren’t they?

Actually, no. The differences between the two are significant. Therefore, this blog details the basic differences between editing and proofreading services.

What are the differences between editing and proofreading?


Imagine your story as a new house. You’ve painstakingly built the house brick by brick. It’s taken you at least weeks but probably months or years. You take a step back from your brand new house and feel proud – and so you should be! 

However, upon closer inspection you begin to notice a few cracks. Perhaps nothing major but they need looking at to make sure your house is strong and will withstand the test of time. To prevent nit-picky villagers from finding fault with your house and telling others about your cracks.

You need an expert to check the house. Someone who is familiar with building houses and checking for cracks that could potentially lead to gaping holes. Someone who will either fix the cracks, or show you how to fix them well yourself, while understanding that you are the architect who has designed and built the house from scratch.

An editor is that house checker!

An editor reviews and potentially re-shapes stories so that they make perfect, logical, easy-to-read sense. Editors usually use Track Changes in a Word document to make comments, suggestions and improvements for authors to implement. For example, an editor may suggest a paragraph re-jig, point out timeline impossibilities, or give re-write ideas to aid comprehension. An editor should be able to read what an author has written and make it even better without losing their unique voice.

A good fiction editor adds value by being:

  • Supportive
  • Passionate
  • Professional 
  • Constructive 
  • Approachable 
  • Knowledgeable 

A good editor gives value by helping authors to:

Revise and improve their story themselves by offering comments and suggestions rather than prescriptive instructions;

Build confidence in their manuscript prior to publication;

Ensure their story meets genre and readers’ expectations (which could increase its chances of receiving favourable reviews);

Offering and/or signposting to post-edit services where appropriate.

A good fiction editor should never:

Miss your agreed deadline;

Point out ‘mistakes’ in a negative, aggressive or prescriptive way;

Alter the manuscript beyond all recognition;

Show your manuscript to any third parties without your permission;

Re-write large sections of your manuscript for you to claim as your own;

Claim they can guarantee certain outcomes e.g. better reviews, interest from a publisher etc. These outcomes are likely to be improved with good quality content, but one person alone cannot guarantee them!

What are the basic difference between editing and proofreading?


Proofreading is the equivalent of dressing a freshly decorated room. The holes in the walls have been filled and sanded. It’s had two coats of paint as well as a new carpet and curtains. The furniture has been brought back in and all that’s left to do is place all the knick-knacks.

It’s when everything else is in place in the manuscript and all that’s left to check are the final details, which need to be as perfect as possible right before publication.

In a nutshell, a proofreader carefully examines a draft text/document and makes spelling, punctuation, grammar and inconsistency corrections to ensure the text/document reflects an exemplary standard of written English.

If the text/document requires any formatting, a proofreader ensures the font (type and size), line spacing, margins, headers/footnotes, indents, listings etc. are all correct, consistent and visually pleasing to the eye (although some of this can be left until the typesetting/formatting stages).

A proofreader will usually either use Track Changes or proofreading marks/symbols. If using Track Changes, some proofreaders will send you two final versions of the corrected text/document back. One showing their corrections and another ‘clean’ version which is ready for you to use immediately. Others may not offer a ‘clean’ version in order that you become responsible for accepting their suggested corrections, or not.

A good proofreader gives value by:

Offering peace of mind during the busy pre-publication process;

Providing authors with a publication ready manuscript ready to be released;

Ensuring your manuscript is as error free as possible to prevent nit-picky, public feedback from readers, which could influence other readers negatively.

A good proofreader should never:

Miss your agreed deadline;

Leave glaring inaccuracies/inconsistencies in the manuscript;

Change the content of your manuscript beyond proofreading inclusions;

Show your manuscript to any third parties without your permission;

Do a basic spell-check job. As previously outlined here, it’s so important to ensure all homophones/near homophones are used correctly. Punctuation also needs to be accurate and there should be no remaining grammar mistakes. Human eyes and brains are far superior to any grammar/spelling software – this should be evident in your proofread manuscript!

Frequently asked proofreading and editing questions:

I’ve got spell-check on my computer – why do I need a proofreader/editor?

As mentioned above, a basic spell-check does not pick up everything. Homophone and grammatical mistakes, cultural preferences (e.g. English/American spelling differences), punctuation omissions, inappropriate tone or paragraphing irregularities can be missed. Correcting all of these ensures your content speaks for itself, instead of allowing errors to confuse/distract your reader and sabotage an otherwise positive impression.

Am I guaranteed to get the outcome I want if I use a professional editor/proofreader?

Outcomes cannot be guaranteed. An editor/proofreader uses their skills and expert knowledge to suggest improvements to your manuscript within the remit of their job, which then gives your manuscript its best chance at achieving the outcome(s) you hope for.

What qualifications should my editor/proofreader possess?

A good quality proofreader/editor should possess:

  • A keen eye for detail;
  • An excellent grasp of the English spelling, punctuation and grammar rules;
  • A clear understanding of idioms, colloquialisms, cultural references etc.

Although there are no specific requirements necessary to become an editor/proofreader, any professional should be able to evidence their qualifications and experience. For example: an English, Publishing, Media Studies or related degree, appropriate professional memberships, relevant training and/or career experience, and/or transferable skills thereof. Any editor/proofreader confident in their abilities should be happy to provide you with a sample edit or proofread (some are free, some are paid). This helps you decide whether they are a good fit for you and your book. It also helps them find out if you are a good fit for them and their preferred genres and/or specialisms. Reputable editors and proofreaders should also have plenty of testimonials too.

A-Z of Storytelling Techniques for Authors

A-Z of Storytelling Techniques for Authors is available to buy or borrow now! Get it here.

If you have found this blog useful, please let me know in the comments. Feel free to check out my other posts for authors too:

What does a line edit look like?

How to easily write a nonfiction synopsis

7 common mistakes to avoid in your manuscript

What are the pros and cons of Vellum formatting?

What is the difference between a blurb and a synopsis

How to self edit your novel:clichés and common phrases

How to self edit your novel: spelling, punctuation and grammar

What are the differences between line and developmental editing

How to create a social media content series and turn it into an eBook

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