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Does proofreading include editing?

At Accuracy Matters, one question we often get asked is what’s included in a proofread, and whether proofreading includes editing. That’s why in this blog, we’re exploring the whole editorial process to distinguish the main differences between the two.

To begin, it might be helpful to give an overview of the whole editorial process from blank page to published final version, in terms of what’s needed at each stage, in order to understand this better.

1. Your project is a blank page

In other words, you’re starting from scratch or with only an outline. In this case, the editorial service(s) you need would most likely include:

  • Content planning
  • Desk research
  • Writing
  • Repurposing

2. You have rough copy

Some content is there but may not be in the right order, or you may need to include additional material. You may have too much content which needs cutting to a specified (or preferred) length. You need:

  • Editing

3. Your copy is final

You’re happy with the content and structure, and the project is deemed ready for publication. You need:

  • Copy-editing

4. You have proofs of your project

Final copy has been designed/typeset/put into the format in which it will be published. You need:

  • Proofreading
  • Content checking
  • Shape checking
  • Amend checking

As you can see from this outline process, editing occurs well before the proofreading phase. This is because they deal with two different aspects of your content. There are good reasons for compartmentalising the editorial process – in the same way that there’s no point getting distracted with your accent wallpaper if you haven’t chosen your bricks yet.

If writing is preparing to build and assembling materials for a wall, then editing is making sure the bricks are sitting correctly and applying cement. Copy-editing is getting your plaster smooth and adding your primer and coats of paint, and proofreading is applying the final polish and any embellishments/improvements. Any builder would tell you that attempting to assemble the wall in a different order would result in a big mess.

Following the editorial process and compartmentalising in this way is also the most efficient approach. There’s not much point in proofreading and dealing with the finer detail of a section of text which then gets cut from your final version because it doesn’t serve the overall purpose of your project.

There are some circumstances when the editing and proofreading phases of a project become conflated. This may be because of budget or time constraints. If this happens, it’s important to write a clear brief which defines what needs to be done editorially, and to keep a close eye on your outputs, ensuring that both the overall structure and flow of your content are sound (editing), at the same time as getting the details right (proofreading).

We wouldn’t usually recommend conflating the editorial stages in this way. However, it is sometimes unavoidable – and maybe sometimes preferable – and some proofreaders explicitly provide a ‘hybrid’ service, calling it ‘proof-editing’ or something similar.

To conclude, proofreading rarely includes editing as there are other stages prior to the final proofread that ensure a piece of content is refined and effective.

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