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.


Is your manuscript ready for a copyedit? Check this handy flowchart to see.

Getting to the end of your first draft is a momentous achievement – definitely one that deserves celebration. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that your work here is done and it’s time to send it off to an editor.

I often receive very raw drafts from writers asking for a  copyedit. So I’ve created this super professional flowchart to give an idea of the level of work that needs to go into a manuscript before it’s ready to copyedit.

This is not a definitive process, but it’s indicative. If you’re not sure what to do next once you’ve typed ‘the end’ for the first time, this could be a handy guide.


Good luck intrepid writer.

Please feel free to share if you found this useful or know someone who might.



Three essential questions to ask before you start writing that business document

Have you ever found yourself totally stumped halfway through writing a paper, briefing or report?

Perhaps you’ve covered all the background and context, made some notes about what you want to say next, but you’re not sure how to proceed. Or worse, you keep going round in circles.

Chances are you’ve not asked yourself these essential questions:

  1. Who is the reader?
  2. What do they already know?
  3. What do they need to know?

Here’s an example:

I had a client who had ground to a halt writing a white paper for her new product. She had plenty of notes on the current state of play and how her training program would address it, but she couldn’t find the right angle. The problem was she was trying to write it for two readers – she was pitching her program at a high level and drilling down to detail in the same document.

Once we worked through the three essential questions, we established that she didn’t need the introduction about the current state of play because the reader was aware of it – in fact that was why they were reading her paper in the first place. We also established that it wasn’t necessary to delve into the machinations of her program; those details belonged in a complementary document.  With those three simple questions, the brief became clear:

Her reader was a high-level busy person such as a CEO (who doesn’t have a lot of reading time).

They already knew they had an issue with staff turnover (so she didn’t need to go into all the stats and facts about how this is an issue for many organisations).

They needed to know that she had a unique way to address this (but they didn’t need to know the details of how that worked).

Here’s another example:

When I ask local government clients whether their document is for councillors or the community, they invariably say ‘both’. But how can that be? Councillors and community members have totally different levels of understanding about the workings of their council. Trying to pitch a document to both is going to get you tied up in knots, and the finished product will possibly bore the pants off both of them.

So if you want your writing to be concise and compelling, try asking the three essential questions before you start (and don’t try to pitch to disparate readers). I guarantee it will help you get to the point (and stick to it) without too much writerly angst.

Happy wordsmithing.

Please feel free to share if you found this useful or know someone who might.


Two-minute tip: check your spell check settings

If your document has uppercase headings, check they are not going to be overlooked by spell check (which happened to me this week … eek!).

Here’s an example (strangely close to my real-life experience, but words have been changed to protect the innocent).


Settings are found in the spelling and grammar dialogue box under options.


And here’s the culprit.


As you probably know, spell check is a handy but fickle friend – useful for a final sweep but not to be totally relied upon, especially if the settings are not quite right.


Journey of a book

Every book has a different journey from idea to shelf, but I’m sure there are some commonalities.

When Nichola Scurry, an author I worked with over a couple of years,  asked me to speak at the launch of her debut novel, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew a lot about her book but not much about her journey writing it, except that it had started off as a sort of memoir, and that she wanted to self publish. So I took that idea and made up the rest.

Here’s what I said (with the preface that it was an imagined journey). I wonder if some of it resonates with you.

A woman sits at her writing desk, looking through what she’s written over the last few months, heart hammering. She’s just had a little thrill of an idea. She wonders if what started as a sort of memoir to share with family, could actually become a novel.

She’s never written a novel before, but she’s read plenty. How hard can it be?

A woman sits with her writing group, heart hammering. She’s about to workshop for the first time. Maybe they’ll hate it. Maybe they’ll say it’s rubbish. It probably is rubbish. Yesterday she thought it was quite good, but today she’s almost definitely certain it’s rubbish.

They don’t hate it. They like bits, offer ideas, see potential that she hadn’t noticed. She gets a little thrill, maybe this is going to work out after all.

So… many more workshops, quite a few drafts and an unspecified number of years later, it’s done. It’s a novel.

Time for an editor. She sends it off, heart hammering. Maybe it’s rubbish. It probably is rubbish. Yesterday she thought it was quite good, but today she’s almost definitely certain it’s rubbish.

The editor doesn’t think it’s rubbish. But she does think it needs work. There’s more work? My god, will this ever end?

So… she works her way through the editor’s assessment, slashing and burning precious scenes that apparently ‘aren’t adding to the story’ (editors are such sadists), reworking story lines, rewriting chapters.

She workshops new material with the editor, writes some more, edits some more, writes edits writes edits writes edits. My god will this ever end?

Well apparently it does end. Because here we are. After a round of copyediting and reviewing the editor’s suggestions,

a round of proofreading,


cover design,

getting an ISBN and CIP,

finding a printer,

setting up online distribution,

developing a social media author profile,

arranging a book launch,

publicising the book launch,

making sure that she doesn’t forget to invite anyone to the book launch,

getting weary self and boxes of books to the book launch…

well actually… it’s not the end at all.

It’s the beginning.

The beginning of Dot’s story being out there, on bedside tables, on trams and trains, at cafés, on the beach, in holiday suitcases.

It’s been a long journey, no doubt with its ups and downs, but she made it.

Dot’s out of your hands now Nic, and she’s about to make her way into people’s hearts. She’s a great character with a funny and poignant story, and I know people are going to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed editing it.


It’s an exciting journey, with ups and downs and downs and ups, but ultimately ups. Keep writing, scheming and dreaming intrepid writer, and may your book find its rightful place on many people’s bookshelves and bedside tables.


Two hot tips for picking up typos in your own work

I recently published a post with an embarrassing error: who’s instead of whose.  Gasp! How did I let this happen and how can I help you avoid doing the same?

Who knows how that pesky apostrophe slipped in there in the first place? Perhaps I’d used the contraction of ‘who is’ in an earlier draft and forgot to change it, or perhaps it was my over-eager apostrophe pinkie (I tell you, that pinkie has a mind of it’s its own). Either way, I should have picked it up before I published, but I didn’t because:

1. I broke the golden rule of self-editing and published it immediately after writing it.

When I read the post a day later, the error jumped off the page. But at the time of writing I was too close to see it. I was also impatient to get it posted and get on with the next thing. If it’s something important, always give yourself a little space before hitting send, submit or publish. This helps not only to pick up bloopers, but also to get a feel for whether the writing is communicating exactly what you want it to. I nearly always find little tweaks to improve my message when I return after a break.

2. I read it about a gazillion times to see if I liked the tone and flow, I even read it out aloud, but I didn’t actually PROOFREAD it.

Proofreading is a whole other style of reading.

You       need      to      look       closely      at     every     single      word.

Our brains are very good at joining words up without seeing all the letters. To stop your eye running ahead, try the proofreader’s trick of holding a ruler or piece of paper under the line you are reading, or pointing at each word with your pen. I guarantee that one slow and careful read using either of these techniques will pick up more errors than reading it over and over. (I have tested this with my proofreading students – about 80% pick up something they’d missed just reading it normally.)

So my tip of the day, give yourself time to come back to a piece to review it, and do one slow and careful proofread before publishing, sending or submitting.

And why the picture of the pool? Well lucky me, this is my local, and it’s often where I go for a few laps between finishing a job and submitting it.


You’ve written your first draft. Now what?

Woo hoo! You did it! The first thing to do is feel super smug and a wee bit proud (or should that be the other way round?) Either way, not everyone gets that far, but YOU HAVE.

Once the euphoria and the effects of the celebratory chocolate/champagne/insert-treat-of-choice binge have worn off, it’s time to plot the next step.

Unless you are some kind of genius magic writing-robot, your first draft will probably be overwritten and underdeveloped. The next step is to identify where it needs work. Here’s my recommendation.

  1. Wait at least a week before you look at it again. Preferably a few weeks. You are so close to it you won’t be able to see it properly without a break.
  1. Format your manuscript with generous margins and at least 1.5 spacing. Either print it out or save it in a format that can be annotated on a tablet (I use Goodnotes). If you don’t have a printer or a tablet, invest the $15 or so to print it at your local stationers, it’ll be worth it.
  1. Set aside a good chunk of time – at least one and a half hours – to start reading it. Chose a quiet comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted (bed, the library, the park). Turn off your phone and/or any notifications on your tablet. You need to have maximum focus to get as close to the first-read experience as possible.
  1. When you find bits that need work, circle them, make a note in the margin, then move on. If you get a brainwave, make a note and move on. Working like this will give you an overview of your book. It’s too easy to get lost in the detail when you are working on your computer; working on paper/tablet helps you see the big picture.
  1. Keep with this focussed reading pattern until you’re finished. Resist temptation to dive into the manuscript and fiddle. It’s not going to help. Trust your memory and your notes; they are going to help you decide what to do next once you’ve finished your appraisal.
  1. When you are finished reading, note down the jobs that need doing. For example, did you discover a subplot petered out half way through? Do you need to review your turning points? Are the stakes not high enough for your protagonist? Decide which of these you are going to tackle first.
  1. Congratulations, you are about to launch into your second draft. And you have a plan!

This is just one approach. What tips do you have for approaching the second draft?