The Difference Between Editing and Proofing

We often use the words editing and proofing interchangeably but there is a significant difference. If you’re not aware of it, you could be failing at both. Editing is big picture or ‘zoomed out’; proofing is detailed or ‘zoomed in’.

Editing is about the overall structure and flow of the article. Are the introduction and conclusion supported by the content in between? Are the paragraphs organized well? Is it easy to read and digest? Are the sentences structured well? When you’re reading something and you have to pause to reread a line – that’s a signal that editing is needed.

Proofing is about grammar and spelling and punctuation. It’s often about the little words, like ‘of’ instead of ‘if’. And about missing words, like ‘the’ or ‘an’. It’s hard to proofread our own writing because our brains follow the same pattern as when we typed it. Reading out loud, or printing to proof with paper and pencil, are both good ways to break the pattern.

Here’s the important point, these are two different processes and can’t be done at the same time. That would be like focusing on one star through a telescope but trying to keep an eye on the whole galaxy at the same time. Can’t be done, at least not effectively.

But first, you need to write. Do that without editing or proofing as you go, then spend twice as much time editing as you do writing.