What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?

Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, but there is a very clear difference, especially in the publishing world.

Here’s the short answer:

Editing is finessing the writing.

Proofreading is a calamity check.

Proofreading is the absolute last check to make sure everything is present and correct. In publishing, proofreading is done after the manuscript has been typeset – it’s literally reading the proof. In your writing life, you would proofread before submitting a piece or publishing a post, to make sure no mistakes have slipped through. This is not the time to rewrite a sentence to improve the rhythm, or reconsider a character motivation, that’s editing, and hopefully you’ve already spent some time doing that.

So when it comes time for proofreading, here are some tips and tricks the professionals use.

Print it out

Yes, even if it’s hundreds of pages. In fact ESPECIALLY if it’s hundreds of pages, you need to give your brain and eyeballs the best chance of spotting the errors.

Hold a ruler under each line

This simple trick stops your eye skipping ahead, which it naturally wants to do. This in turn helps you stay on the task longer because you are not straining to stop your eye skipping ahead – the ruler is doing that work for you.

Read it out aloud

I don’t do this for big jobs, but it’s helpful for small ones. I’m not going to print this before I post it, but I am going to read it aloud – slowly.

Use a bright coloured pen

Red is good, but any bright colour will make your corrections stand out. You’ll thank yourself when you are entering them later.

Take regular breaks

You may be keen to power through it, but even a five-minute break can refresh you (get a glass of water, pat the cat/dog, stick your head out the window and see what the weather’s doing). I take a break at least every hour, sometimes more often if it’s heavy going or I’ve been at it for a while.

Give yourself time

I never schedule more than four hours proofreading a day, which can take me about six hours to get through. And then I’m pooped.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to share.