Editing Services and Proofreading Services – How Do They Differ?


We receive many enquiries about our editing services and proofreading services. There is often confusion about the definitions of editing and proofreading. Sometimes people enquire about proofreading services when they really need editing services. At other times people ask us about editing services when they might only need proofreading services.


In order to clarify the differences between editing services and proofreading services we’ll explain them.


The Differences between Editing Services and Proofreading  Services (the short answer)


Editing services encompass a range of activities in preparing a document or manuscript for publication – these include copy editing, structural editing (also called substantive editing) and proofreading.


So proofreading is part of the editing process. It’s the final step before going to press or publishing on the web. Text at the proofreading stage should already have been through copy editing and structural editing. But sometimes we receive requests for proofreading services when more extensive editing is required.


It’s best to do the copy editing and structural editing when the text is still in a word processing format, such as Microsoft Word. Providing copy editing and structural editing when the text is in a design program format (such as Quark or InDesign) or a PDF document will usually be complicated and more time consuming.


Types of Editing Services (the long answer)


For a more detailed answer about the difference between editing services and proofreading services we’ll look at the Australian Style manual for authors, editors and printers, which gives a good summary of the scope of tasks involved in each level of editing.


Substantive Editing

Substantive editing concentrates on the content, structure, language and style of a document. Some restructuring and rewording might also be done in the interests of accessibility, clarity, a cohesive style and tone, and a tighter reader focus. Contribution to, or assessment of, concepts for the proposed design, illustration, delivery format and usability criteria, is also generally part of a substantive editing brief.


Copy Editing

The purpose of copy editing is to remove mistakes, inconsistencies, or other infelicities of expression that could irritate or confuse readers―or embarrass the author. At the copy editing stage, the editor therefore concentrates on the details of language, spelling and punctuation; on achieving consistency of style and layout; and on checking references, illustrations, tables, headings, sequences, links and preliminary matter and endmatter.



The principal aims of proofreading are to verify that there are no discrepancies between the previously approved master copy and the formatted proof, that the document is complete and that the standard of presentation is suitable for publication.


The proofreader compares the approved version of a document with the first proof, checking each word, punctuation mark and graphic element. Each component of the document is also checked to ensure that everything has been included and is in the correct position. Each page is then further scrutinised to verify that the layout and type specifications have been accurately followed, and that the line breaks, page and screen lengths, and table and illustration placements are suitable.


This summary clearly shows that structural editing services, copy editing services and proofreading services each involve distinct activities, and there are significant differences between each level of editing.


When people request quotations for proofreading services, when they really need structural editing, copy editing, or both, they might get an unrealistically low quotation for what they need. This is why we ask to see a sample of the work to be edited before we provide a quotation for editing or proofreading services.  


When you’re seeking editing and proofreading services, it’s important to define your terms correctly to get what you expect.

Michael Gladkoff