What’s the difference between proofreading and editing?

Before submitting your essay or report should it be edited or proofread, or both? These terms are often used interchangeably, but proofreading and editing aren’t the same thing and they don’t give you the same results. Proofreading involves the correction of surface errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation, whereas editing aims to enhance the quality of a piece of writing by improving flow, readability and structure.


Proofreading aims to identify errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. It also identifies inconsistent terminology, formatting and referencing and usually the results are minor, aesthetic adjustments rather than extensive changes. Proofreading requires specialised knowledge and experience to work. The human brain is expert at compensating for errors automatically. The result of this is that when you look at your own writing you may not notice the mistakes it contains. This is why student assignments should always be proofread before submission. Proofreading can also help you to recognize your common errors and limit their future occurrence.


Editing aims to optimize the overall quality of writing. It is more creative and considers the audience as well as the writer. This can result in extensive changes to the text. Editing can, for example, consider meaning, tone, structure and the use of superfluous language. Editing aims to ensure that the meaning and ideas contained in a piece of writing are expressed in the most suitable way for the target audience. Editing may well also look closely at the content of a piece of writing and use specialized knowledge of the subject to clarify aspects of the text, and also check the “factual” information it contains. In addition, editing corrects any issues with spelling, punctuation and grammar in the same way as proofreading does. 

Capstone Editing offers a professional service for all your proofreading and editing tasks. However, if you choose to edit your own writing, you may find it best to put it aside for a while to help you to analyze it from a fresh perspective or engage a friend or colleague to provide you with feedback. If you don’t give yourself this distance from your writing, you may find that you are too attached to it to be able to make objective decisions about editing the words and structures on the page. A common technique is to edit first and then proofread before you submit your work. It will pay you to ask for help during this process as a second set of eyes can see things that you may have easily missed yourself.

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