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Do you need an editor or a proofreader?
The differences between editing and proofreading

Editing and proofreading are two distinct and complementary phases within the publication production process (‘publication production’ being the process that takes the written word from the original writer to the public in any format).

They can equally be applied to business documents, websites, marketing material, letters, reports and proposals – anything in written form that needs to clearly inform and impress its intended audience.

Use checklist to help decide if you need an editor or a proofreader

What is editing?

‘Editing’ (by an editor/subeditor/copy editor) does the heavy lifting. Depending on the quality of the original article, it may involve:

  • correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • imposing publication or company ‘style’ (e.g. how certain words are spelt, capitalisation)
  • smoothing out patches of rough or poor writing
  • replacing poor or incorrect word choices
  • spotting and inserting missing words or words that are spelt correctly but are the wrong word (e.g. short words such as ‘of’ or ‘is’ may be missing, and words such as ‘of’, ‘if’, ‘is’ or ‘it’ may be used inappropriately)
  • querying and checking possible factual errors with the writer
  • rewriting the opening paragraph to emphasise a different point
  • reorganising the content sequence
  • completely rewriting the article into publishable form
  • rejecting the article as unsalvageable and unsuitable for publication.

If the writing is of good quality, the editing may be light, with only a few changes here and there and other changes made for reasons of style (e.g. capitalisation). If the writing is poor, the tracked word-processing file will be a sea of coloured changes.

The editor is an excellent ‘wordsmith’, a good writer in their own right with an eye for detail who enjoys the order, clarity and correctness they can bring to the written word through their superior language skills.

Editing can be a time-intensive process and should start early in the publication production cycle, when articles start to arrive from writers. Setting up a ‘flow’ is important, rather than trying to do it in a ‘lump’.

For a single article, editing time depends on the length and quality of the original. Allow time before your deadline for the editor to get through the article and send it back to you so you can check the tracked changes and attend to any queries.

See an example of an edited article

What is proofreading?

‘Proofreading’ (by a proofreader) happens at some point after the editing is completed. Traditionally, it comes after the articles have been laid into their pages by the graphic designer with any related photos, photo captions, tables and figures.

It can also be done in the word-processing file before layout to avoid having the graphic designer/IT professional making fiddly text changes and introducing new errors.

Proofreading is best done when the publication’s articles are in their pages with their photos, captions, tables and figures in place. The proofreader then comes in as a dispassionate third party, who has not seen any of the material before, and reads it cold.

Assuming the article has been through editing, proofreading is an essential double-checking process. No editing is perfect; the more work an editor has done on an article, the greater the need to have it independently checked.

Proofreading should be a ‘light’ job, with the heavy work already done by the editor.

See an example of a proofread article

The proofreader looks for what the editor has missed or perhaps got wrong:

  • grammar, spelling and punctuation errors (particularly use of apostrophes as possessives and contractions)
  • missing publication ‘style’ (e.g. capitalisation)
  • any remaining rough/poor writing
  • poor or incorrect word choices
  • missing words and incorrect words that are spelt correctly
  • possible factual errors
  • editing errors (e.g. sentences that end in the middle of nowhere, or words that have been left in that should have been removed)
  • wrong symbols
  • use of hyphen, en dash and em dash
  • consistency of writing tense
  • use of singular and plural
  • plus much more.

The proofreader now also has an overview of the article that the editor/subeditor may not have had, because they can see the article’s photos, captions, tables and figures with the words in near-final format. Do the captions match the photos? Are the tables and figures referred to in the text? Do they make sense? Have the tables/figures been reproduced correctly? Are there any missing? Are the headings spelt correctly? Are there any problems in the overall layout?

The proofreader has an acute eye for detail, from the five-point text notes under the table to ensuring the correct spelling of the 72-point headline, plus everything in between. A good proofreader adds the polish that takes the words in a publication from 85-90% to as close to 100% as possible in such a detail-oriented field.

Proofreading is quicker than editing, but slower than ordinary reading. Depending on the size and publication format (paper or electronic), allow between one to four weeks before the publication date for the proofreading and subsequent corrections required. For example, a 24-page magazine/report might take 3-6 hours over 1-2 days and a 48-page magazine/report might take 10-12 hours over 3-4 days.

For a single article, turnaround time depends on the length and quality of the document. It can range from same day or overnight (for, say, 2000-5000 words) to 3-5 days (say, 10,000 words), to multiple weeks (say, 50,000 to 100,000 words).

Book an editor or a proofreader today

Do you need an editor/copy editor? Do you need a proofreader? To access skilled and trained professional editors and proofreaders, contact Professional Word Services today at, (03) 9583 5884 or
0418 532 114.

We charge the same hourly rate for editing and proofreading, so you can select the service that best meets your needs. Our specialist professionals have decades of experience across business and media and can shape and polish an article or publication that will reflect well on you or your organisation and impress its intended audience.


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