Editing & proofreading

Although editing and proofreading are often mentioned together, they are actually quite separate activities. Furthermore, the term proofreading is used by different people to mean different things.

Editing versus proofreading  

Editing means improving a text so that it puts the writer’s message across in the best way. Editing should be done near the beginning of a publishing process.

Editors looks at grammar and spelling, but their job extends beyond this. Editors have to determine what the writer is trying to say, how he or she is saying it, whether the message is clear and the arguments are logical, whether the language and style are consistent and appropriate, and even whether the text is well-structured and flows properly.

If the original document is poorly written, the edited version may end up looking quite different. In a country like South Africa where many people are forced to write in a language that is not their mother tongue, the work of editors is extremely important.


Proofreading, in the publishing industry, means checking a typeset version of a document against the original manuscript to ensure that the typeset version contains everything in good order. The proofreader makes virtually no changes to the text itself. Proofreading is done near the end of a publishing process.

Clients who want only spelling, grammar and glaring errors corrected during editing sometimes use the term proofreading for this. Other terms used for similar activities include language checking, reviewing and light editing.

Prospects for editors

Editors work in a range of fields, such as producing business and commercial documentation, magazines, school and academic text books, and fiction and non-fiction titles for publishers.

The largest market for editors in South Africa is probably schoolbooks.

 Students often require editing of academic theses and dissertations.

Becoming a proofreader or editor

A language degree is a good preparation for a career in editing and proofreading. Very few dedicated undergraduate courses in editing are available in South Africa, but most universities include modules in editing and proofreading in other language practice courses. Short courses are also available, and publishers often train their editors in-house.

↓PDF file – 2019 list of training in the language professions

Key characteristics

Good editors and proofreaders have the following characteristics:

  •     A high degree of linguistic proficiency
  •     A thorough knowledge of the language in which they work
  •     Attention to detail and good analytical skills
  •     A broad interest in a variety of fields
  •     The ability to comprehend a text in a field they may know little about
  •     The ability to guess which facts need to be checked
  •     Research skills
  •     Computer literacy and knowledge of word processor editing functions