The Difference Between Writing, Editing, And Proofreading
No. They. Are. Not. The. Same.
Someone who is good (or even exceptional) at one doesn’t mean they’re decent at the others.
So, what’s the diff?
One of the definitions Merriam-Webster has for writing is, “the way that you use written words to express your ideas or opinions.”
The way I see it, in the simplest terms, writing is the process of stringing words together to communicate a message and make an impression on readers. In practice, it’s a far more complex activity than that because it requires the capacity to think through how to get from point A to point B, to choose effective words, and to structure thoughts in a way that strikes a chord with readers.
Writing requires creativity and the knack for connecting the dots to pull ideas and bits of information together and communicate them coherently.
A writer’s personal style, the type of assignment, and the audience the writer—or a writer’s client—wants to connect with will flavor the tone and formality of writing.
“Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it” is how Oxford Dictionaries defines “edit.”
Most writers I know often edit their own writing to fine-tune how it flows, eliminate wordiness, and modify sentence structure and word choice. For me, it’s part of the process to ensure the end product I’m delivering to a client is as close as possible to what it needs to be. And of course, editing (typically in the form of minor tweaks) after getting feedback from clients comes with the territory, too.
Some editors are really good writers, but not all are and they don’t necessarily have to be. When editing, you don’t have to create the story and message; you’re improving upon the writing so it’s as effective as possible. Editors need to have proficiency in making changes that will ensure writing makes sense, uses proper grammar, has effective sentence structure, and uses the right words. They need an ability to both pay attention to details and look at a piece of writing from a birds-eye view to make sure all parts of it are effective parts of the whole.
The extent and degree of editing can depend on the type of writing, quality of writing, and length of a written piece. If you’re looking for editing assistance, you might see the various levels of editing referred to as:
- Copy editing – Focuses on grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage.
- Line editing – Focuses on the sentence or paragraph level rather than the broad scope of the piece.
- Substantive or heavy editing – Goes beyond the two above and polishes sentences to improve clarity and flow. It will eliminate overuse of passive voice, repetition, awkward wording, and run-on sentences. This type of editing also involves checking facts and rearranging or reworking parts of the writing if necessary.
Some characteristics of editing (copy editing in particular) overlap with those of proofreading.
But they are not the same!
Proofreading comes after writing and editing.
Dictionaries.com defines it as: “to read (printers’ proofs, copy, etc.) in order to detect and mark errors to be corrected.”
It involves a final check of a piece of writing before it’s published to catch minor mistakes in spelling, spacing, punctuation, inconsistency in indentation of paragraphs, etc.
Contrary to what you might assume, not all writers and editors are capable proofreaders. Proofreading requires a skillset all its own, and it’s never ideal for people (writing and editing professionals included) to proofread writing assignments they’ve been working on. Sometimes (depending on how heavy my workload is), I’ll ask a proofreader to review what I’ve written and fix any errors I might have made.
When you write or edit something, you’re too close to it, and it’s far too easy for your brain to trick your eyes into seeing perfection where it doesn’t exist. For example, you might not catch an extra “the” where it doesn’t belong or an incorrect “they’re” where there should be a “their.” We’ve all seen published blog posts with those sort of oopses. They can happen to the very best writers—because writers aren’t proofreaders. Yes, writers will do their best to make sure what they write is as clean as possible (and often it will be error free after they’ve reread it a couple of times to catch sneaky mistakes), but a second set of eyes on a piece of writing (yours or a pro proofreader’s) can further ensure perfection.
Writing, Editing, Proofreading – Which Do You Need?
If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might benefit from asking a writer to help you with your content.
- Do I have trouble formulating topics and ideas that will captivate my target audience?
- Do I struggle writing thoughts, information and ideas in a way that makes sense to others?
- When I write, does it sound stilted and unnatural rather than genuine?
- Do I have trouble getting to the point when I write?
- Would I rather have a root canal than write a blog post?
If you’re considering working with a freelance writer, keep in mind that rarely are writers skilled at all types of writing projects or a good fit for all industries.
If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might need an editing professional’s touch.
- Am I good at formulating topics and ideas and writing them in an understandable way, but do I have trouble varying the structure of sentences so they sound less boring?
- Does my writing sound monotonous and lack variety in word choice?
- Do I creatively convey my message when I write but struggle with organizing the content so it flows logically for readers?
- Do I find that I repeat myself or become long-winded when I write?
- Do I enjoy the creative process of writing but not going back to fine-tune what I’ve written?
If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might need a proofreader’s help.
- Am I good at writing clearly and coherently, but I make a lot of silly mistakes in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc.?
- Do I have time to review what I’ve written with a fine-toothed comb to make sure it’s error free?
- Do I loathe attention to detail?
Writing, editing, proofreading…they’re different yet all extremely important when creating and publishing content of any type. If you don’t have all three skillsets in-house, consider getting the help of professionals who can make sure your content consistently puts your business’s best foot forward.