Editing and Proofreading: What is the difference? by Margaret Reid

When you've written a text, chances are you need somebody else to look at it - somebody who will tell you where you can change things and how you can make the text as a whole better. In large part, this is because when somebody else sees a text you've written they don't also see what you wanted to write, which is something you yourself as an author will always struggle to let go.

By seeing the text as it is instead of as you wanted it to be, they can see when things are unclear and even confusing. After all, they don't have what you wanted to say influencing what they're actually reading. That's a big deal, as psychology teaches us that once we know something we can't unknow it. This is known as the curse of knowledge. So, if we understand what we mean with a sentence or a paragraph, it becomes exceedingly hard to see why it would be difficult for somebody else to understand.

So that's the background. Of course, that doesn't yet answer the question, which one do you need. Let's turn there next.

So what's the difference?
Really, it's a matter of degrees. A proof editor stops where an editor starts. So, both will look out for grammatical mistakes, punctuation errors and spelling mistakes. But that is really all that you do when you proof read.

Editors, go much deeper. They can suggest sentence and paragraph rewrites and can even suggest that you fundamentally change the structure of what you're writing.

Of course, because they're far more likely to suggest fundamental changes, including the deletion of certain sections and the rewriting of other parts, editors are better used far earlier in the writing process. This is both because they can then more effectively steer the writing of your text and because if you've already spent a lot of time on a text perfecting it, you don't want somebody else to come along and tell you to do it all over again.

So really, if you want to use an editor, you should consider getting them involved after you've finished your first or your second draft (Yes, great texts take more than two drafts - though fortunately each successive draft takes a lot less work).

So who do I use?
I'm a full-time writer and if I'm offered the help of a good proofreader or a good editor, then I will go with the editor every time. Proofreaders help you avoid stupid mistakes and that's great. The thing is, they can't make your text fundamentally better. Only an editor can do that. And they do it by seeing your text from a fundamentally different angle and then offering you suggestions on it.

These suggestions, in turn, give you fresh eyes and new insights, which you can then take to your text and use it to make it better. This doesn't mean I always accept all the suggestions that an editor suggest. Often, I'll take their insights and use it to take a text in yet a third direction. Nonetheless, by the time the text is done both myself and the editor will consider the text a lot better.

But that's me. One of my greatest pleasures in life is sitting down and trying to make a text a joy to read. I realize that's not for everybody. For most people, creating a text that is functional and gets the point across suffices.

So who should you use?
Well, obviously it depends. It depends on how far along your text is and how well it reads as it is and it depends on how much experience you have as a writer.
If your text is already nearly done and you feel suitably happy with it, then get a proof reader. If you feel it isn't yet up to scratch and would to fundamentally improve it, then you should get an editor involved.

Similarly, if you've written a lot of texts already and gotten a lot of feedback on them, then you'll understand quite a lot of what makes a text engaging and you might be able to skip the editor and just get some professional translation and proofreading service involved.

On the other hand, if all the writing you've ever done is a couple of school essays, then it really will pay to ask for the help of an editor. You see, if they're good they will be able not just help you with this text but teach you some key lessons about what you're doing wrong which will make the texts you write going forward better as well.

Of course, the operative word there is 'good'. There are a lot of people out there who claim they can edit. Many don't deserve that title. Here are some quick tips to help you find that editor worth your time.

What makes an editor good?
Have a friend who weaves magic with their words? Would you like to ask them to edit your text? You might want to think twice about that. A good writer does not necessarily a good editor make. This is largely down to one thing - do they enhance your voice or do they drown it with their own? The latter is bad, the former is obviously good.

How do you know if an editor kills or enhances your voice? Simple. Ask to receive a few editing samples from different people they've edited. Do those samples all read the same? Then their voice wins out over that of the original writer. Do they all sound like unique people with their own styles? Then they help enhance those people's voices instead.

Really, that's the best way to know.

Another thing to look out for is how much feedback they give you. Do they tell you what you're doing wrong or do they explain to you why it is that this is the wrong way to do it? If you want the editing job to not just make the current text better but to make you better as a writer, you need the latter. Of course, you might want to specify that this is what you're after before you engage an editor.

When working with an editor curb that first impulse
A final note. When you work with an editor and you get back a text that's filled to the brim with suggestions about how to change it, or rework it, you'll have a natural inclination to defend what you did.

Resist that impulse. One of the worst things about being an editor is getting an enraged writer on the phone who wants to defend their choices. That's grounds for never working with that writer again. Instead, the only thing that matters is 'does this make my text better?' If not, then turn it down. If it does, then accept it.

In the long run, this will serve your writing better than any knee jerk reaction to protect your ego ever will. And as a bonus, you'll be able to work with that editor again!

Margaret Reid is a freelance writer who is seeking to discover new ways for personal and professional growth. Currently she's working in the company The Word Point and trying to improve herself in the blogging career. Margaret is an experienced and self-driven specialist who cannot imagine her life without writing.
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