What is proofreading?

In a previous post, I discussed what editing is ,specifically looking at how editing takes place in different scenarios. In this article I look at the meaning of the term “proofreading” and what the proofreading process entails.

Proofreading and editing are not the same


Quite a lot of the time, especially when being asked to edit a thesis or dissertation, people ask me to proofread their documents when really – what is – needed is a thorough edit. So how do you know whether or not you want your document to be edited or proofread?
When an editor is asked to proofread a document, they will look at the following three main things:



  •  Are there any spelling mistakes, for example where ‘form’ is written in a document when actually it should have been ‘from’.
  • Are there any grammatical mistakes, for example “They is hungry” must be changed to “They are hungry”.
  • Are there any punctuation mistakes, for example an exclamation mark (!) at the end of a question must be changed to a question mark (?).


If an editor is proofreading a Word document, this is what they’ll look at. That’s it! If they are proofreading a laid-out document – such as a brochure or a magazine layout which has been designed by a professional graphic designer – there are other things that will need to be checked such as widows, orphans and running turns. But that’s a blog post for another day!


However, if an editor edits a Word document they will look at the style and flow of the piece. If something does not make sense, they will indicate this and make suggestions for improvement. If there are facts that seem – to them – to be obviously incorrect they will indicate this.


Editors use track changes when they edit and/or proofread


When an editor edits and/or proofreads a Word document, he or she will use a function in Word called track changes. The purpose for using this is so that you – as the client – can see what changes he/she has made to the document. (And also so that you can see that the editor has ACTUALLY gone through the document – believe it or not: I have heard horror stories from clients who has feedback from their editor saying that they have gone through everything but – when the client reads through the document again – nothing has been changed!)

So if you get a document back from the editor, and it’s FULL of red marks, don’t get disheartened! It doesn’t mean that your document is full of errors. All it means is that the editor has made a lot of suggestions in your document which – as far as he/she is concerned – will add to your document.


If you do nt agree with what they have to say, send them an e-mail or get on the phone to them. Remember that editing is not always an exact science. There are some things that are right or wrong but very often the changes that the editor will make is based on his or her personal preferences. At the end of the day you, as the customer, must be happy.