When we write 'important' texts that are going to reach a wider audience or a smaller but significant audience - for example, texts for a website or a printed publication, an article for a journal or a scientific paper - it's a great comfort to have an extra set of eyes catch any linguistic errors and other inaccuracies. This is true when you are writing in your mother tongue, and even more so when you are writing in a foreign language such as English.
When you need someone to look at your text, you often talk about having the text proofread. Sometimes the term editing is also used. You may have wondered what these two terms mean and whether you actually need one or the other.
Proofreading is defined as a reviewing and correcting errors in a text before publication. In a proofread, the focus is on actual errors in the text, but the proofreader does not consider the content and structure of the text.
A proofreader will typically correct grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and punctuation, ensure that the numbering of tables and figures is correct, that the table of contents and headings are consistent.
The definition of editing is adjusting the content and form of an article or similar before publication. The focus is not only on errors in the 'surface' of the text, but also on the content of the text.
This means that the editor - in addition to correcting linguistic and grammatical errors, just like during a proofreading - also pays attention to the content, context and structure of the text. Typically, an editor will:
In other words, a good editor takes into account the general pitfalls that can work against the author's argument and suggest rewordings and restructuring that can make the text more readable.
Whether you need aproofreading or editing depends on many different factors, for example: what kind of text is it? What is it for? How did it come about - for example, were several people involved in writing it, or was it pieced together from various other texts? How good are you (and any co-authors) at writing and structuring a text? And the choice between proofreading and editing also depends on your timeframe and budget, because editing is more time-consuming and therefore more expensive than proofreading.