Editing and Proofreading

It can be difficult for writers to see problems in their own work. However, writers can be effective at editing and proofreading by using some simple techniques. It is best if you can take a break from your writing before you start this part of the process, so you can create some distance from your work.

How are editing and proofreading different?

Writers sometimes use editing and proofreading interchangeably; however, each is a different step in the writing process. Editing typically involves a more in-depth examination of the document and can sometimes result in substantial changes in order to improve the overall quality of the work. On the other hand, proofreading comes later in the writing process, once bigger edits have been made, and is usually more concerned with surface level corrections, such as checking grammatical accuracy and fixing any typing errors. Whether you’re editing or proofreading, each is valuable to improving the overall quality of your document.


According to Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, edit means,

  1. Prepare (as literary material) for publication or public presentation,
  2. To assemble (as moving picture or tape recording) by cutting and rearranging,
  3. To alter, adapt or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose.

When you edit, become a critical reader of your document. You can do that by placing time between yourself and the document. When you return to it, you will bring the eyes of a reader rather than of a writer. In addition to using your eyes differently in order to re-see your document, listen to it. Sometimes what may look fine on the page sounds awkward to the ear. Read your paper out loud. This practice is especially important if what you have written will later be presented aloud.


Take a careful look at the formatting of your work. Does your paper follow the prescribed guidelines? Are your in-text citations formatted properly? We have guides on the three most popular citation styles: APA Format, Chicago Format, and MLA Format

Unless you are instructed otherwise by your professor, arrange your paper in this order:

  1. title page
  2. abstract (if requested)
  3. outline (if requested)
  4. paper
  5. appendix (if any)
  6. explanatory endnotes (if any)
  7. endnotes (if requred by the citation system you use)
  8. works cited, reference, or bibliography


Now edit for punctuation. Pay special attention to quotation marks, commas and semi-colons, spelling, and grammar. Carelessness here undercuts your credibility and casts doubt on the quality of your work.


"Proofread" means to read for errors. Now that you have edited your writing it is time to look for errors and correct them. During the revising and editing process you may have corrected some. It can be very helpful to take another break from your writing before you start to proofread. Check out the Finding Common Errors (Purdue OWL) resource.

Read your writing out loud, slowly and carefully. Doing so will help you catch errors that you might otherwise not see. Watch for places where you pause, stumble or re-read because those might be trouble spots. If something sounds strange as you read it, there is probably a reason why. Look for any of the following:

  • Are you being consistent with the tense you are using?
  • Are there sentences that seem way too long or too short?
  • Do the subjects and the verbs agree?
  • Are the pronouns clear to the reader?
  • Is the voice appropriate for the audience?
  • Also watch for misspellings and homophones - your spell check function will not catch 'by' when you meant 'buy'. Don't depend on the word processor; the spell checker is not a proofreader.
  • Check your citations again. Make certain that all directly quoted information or ideas that are not your own are cited appropriately for the assignment.

It can also be helpful to read your writing out loud, sentence by sentence, from the end of your paper backwards to the beginning.

Finally, if you can, ask someone else to read your paper to you out loud so you can hear for yourself how it sounds. Remember, even professional writers have someone else's help with this part of the writing process.