Getting clear: rewriting v. editing v. proofreading

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What you want & what you need


When you, client, ask me to proofread your text, what is it you expect? What do you think you need?

Proofreading, editing, and revising/rewriting are not the same. Let’s look at each, in the order in which they take place.

Revising considers the whole text

Seeing the whole flower


You’ve written your piece, now what?

Gain distance to revise it – often more than once. All the text is considered: it’s a macro view.

Does the text fulfill its purpose? Does it speak to the intended audience? Does it have the right tone and level of language? Are the ideas sufficiently developed or is more evidence needed? Are the relationships between ideas coherent?

Revising/rewriting often involves recrafting sentences, reorganizing paragraphs, removing or adding content, polishing style, harmonizing word use, turning passive voice into active voice, hunting down glue words, cleaning up overwriting and word repetitions, and so on.

Rewriting is often harder than writing a first or second draft. What author takes pleasure in shredding their own work? Yet it’s a non-negotiable necessary step to transform an acceptable piece into a publishable one with traction.



Editing takes place after revision/rewriting and at the sentence (at most paragraph) level. You zoom in on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice issues. You hunt down any lingering awkwardness. You check whether transitions between paragraphs flow. You make sure the text has a fitting overall structure (including introduction and conclusion), that each paragraph has a topic sentence, and the text flows in harmonious style.


In proofreading, the devil is in the details

Examining the nitty-gritty detail


This is the last step before publication: the hunt for surface errors is a micro task. You are looking for lingering misspellings, grammatical errors, and punctuation mistakes. You are not paying attention to content, style, or meaning.

Rarely do you spot all problems in one go. Proofread on screen. Then proof on paper. For the supreme test? Proof the text backwards.




To make a parallel – revising/rewriting is like finalizing architectural plans; editing is interior design; and proofreading is the job of an anal retentive clean-up crew.


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Comments: 5

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  • I have been a translator for almost thirty years and it is the first time I have found such an accurate description of what it takes to do revising, editing and proofreading work. I’ll save it for future reference when talking to my clients! Thank you so much!

    • Thank YOU Mirtha, for your commment and your compliment 🙂 I’m so glad you found this helpful! I hope it helps others — notably clients who often don’t know what these processes entail or what their differences are. They shouldn’t be expected to, it’s not their bailiwick (what the heck do I know about quantum physics?), but it is up to us — writers, editors, translators — to help them figure out what it is they want, and moreover, what it is they may need. An informed client is a happy client!

  • […] What’s the difference between rewriting, editing, and proofreading? […]

  • Eileen

    It is an excellent definition and sadly a lot of people do not realise how difficult it is to revise/rewrite a text which has been machine translated and often request lower rates for the work done, when revising can often be much more difficult than actually translating the original text. Thank you for clarifying the differences Patricia.

  • This is so great Patricia. I’ve been doing all three simultaneously for 20+ years without knowing it.
    Great to have an explanation to share with clients – and argue for that decent rate.
    Thank you – hope to link on LinkedIn if you are there.