Although the terms "proofreading," "revising," and "editing" are often used interchangeably, they are actually different tasks. Editing refers to the actual process of making changes to your paper. Those changes could come from either proofreading or revising.

Proofreading involves a surface-level scan of your paper. Revising, however, refers to the process of making substantive changes to a written work. This post discusses the main differences between proofreading and revising.

Proofreading

When you proofread your paper, you're scanning the overall composition to look for basic typographical, grammatical, and stylistic mistakes. The primary goal of proofreading is to catch surface-level issues that can be changed fairly quickly.

As you're proofreading, watch out for:

  • typos
  • misspelled words
  • punctuation mistakes
  • subject-verb agreement issues (does the subject of your sentence agree with the verb?)
  • tense inconsistencies (are you using the same tense throughout your paper?)
  • missing information
  • citation errors
  • plagiarism

Go over each sentence of your paper and watch out for mistakes or inconsistencies. Reading your paper aloud—to yourself, a friend, or even an attentive pet—is an excellent strategy for catching errors.

Proofreading can be one component of your revision process that you complete either before you undertake substantial revisions or right before you turn in your paper. Importantly, however, each time you make major edits or changes, you should also proofread in order to catch surface-level mistakes.

How to improve proofreading skills

The best way to improve your ability to proofread is to make proofreading a regular part of your writing and revision process. You can also learn how to spot mistakes by reading the work of peers, classmates, or even published writers.

Revising

Revision involves making substantive changes to the content and structure of your paper. Revising allows you to answer key questions about your work, such as: can your reader clearly follow your argument? Do you provide adequate evidence and analysis to support your thesis? Are the steps to the conclusion clear?

Your revision should include fundamental changes in:

  • the construction of sentences and paragraphs (style and sequence)
  • the articulation of your claims (are you adequately proving your thesis?)
  • your evidence and use of evidence (integration of quotes, responding to or challenging other critical viewpoints)
  • the overall organization of your paper (transitions between ideas and paragraphs)

Let's take a look at some of these points in more depth.

Style and sequence

If you've proofread your paper prior to revising, you may have already caught some stylistic errors. At this point, you'll want to be sure that your paper conforms to the conventions of academic writing and that your tone is consistent.

You also want to pay attention to the sequence of your paragraphs. Are there places in the paper that lack logical coherence? Are there paragraphs that can be shuffled around so that the sequence of your argument makes more sense?

The articulation of your claims

While you're revising, it's important to make sure that you are clearly articulating your claims. Avoid phrases like, "it could be argued.." or "it has been claimed..." Instead, focus on making firm claims that relate to your thesis statement.

Also, watch out for places in your paper where you might be taking large leaps between ideas. To ensure that your reader can follow along, add "signposts" to your paper that signal your transition to a new claim.

Importantly, you should be prepared to make extensive changes if you find that your claims, or the way you've articulated them, do not support your thesis statement.

Your evidence and use of evidence

The revision process provides you with an excellent opportunity to consider whether you've included enough evidence in your paper and how you're using that evidence. If you have included direct quotes in your paper, are those "sandwiched" between your own words? Quotes should never be left unattended in a research paper.

You will also want to ensure that you are using your evidence effectively. Keep an eye out for places in your paper where you need more evidence or where you rely too much on other writers' ideas. Finally, be sure that all of your evidence and analysis adequately support your thesis statement.

The overall organization of your paper

Pay close attention to the transitions between sentences and paragraphs and use your outline to double-check that your paper's organization follows a clear plan. If you find yourself getting lost as you read your paper, it's likely that any potential readers will be lost, too.

Check carefully for places where a transitional phrase or sentence could substantially clarify your ideas. Adding phrases like, "as I mentioned above..." or "as a result," where applicable, can significantly improve the flow of your paper.

How to improve revision skills

Like proofreading, revision can be improved through regular practice. Be sure to plan for revision each time you write a paper. Typically, you'll want to provide yourself with some buffer time in between writing and revision to ensure that you approach your work with fresh eyes.

A sample proofreading and revision plan

Again, you should always build in time for substantial revision, proofreading, and editing before you turn in your paper. Here's an example of a revision plan:

One to two weeks before the due date

Plan to finish writing your paper around one to two weeks before the due date. At this point, take some time away from your paper so that you can approach revision with a clear head.

Four days to one week before the due date

Now that you've given yourself a break from your paper, begin your revision. Follow the strategies above to determine if your paper needs substantive changes in style and sequence, evidence and analysis, as well as overall organization. After you've decided how you want to revise, make the necessary edits.

Two to five days before the due date

Now that you've made some substantive changes, it's time to proofread. Read over your paper again, looking for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. At this point, you should also check your citations and references. If you're stuck on how to properly cite your sources, use a citation generator like BibGuru to quickly create accurate citations.

One to two days before the due date

Finally, refer back to the assignment details or prompt to ensure that you've followed your instructor's directions and double-check your paper's overall formatting. Have you included a title page, if required? Does your paper have the right heading and spacing?

Solid proofreading, revising, and editing skills provide you with the means to write better papers and potentially improve your grades. Use the above strategies and plan to submit your next paper with confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions about proofreading vs revising

🛡 What is the difference between editing and revising?

Revision refers to the overall process of assessing, and making changes to, your writing. Editing describes the actual changes that you may make to your paper.

🔑 How do you revise, edit, and proofread your paper?

Once you've completed a draft, you should revise your paper by considering if any substantial changes need to be made to the structure, organization, or style of your paper. You should then make the necessary edits to you draft and proofread it for surface-level issues in grammar and spelling. Finally, you should make any additional edits based on what you discovered through proofreading.

🎈 What are examples of revision?

Revision includes substantive changes to your paper's structure, organization, and style. To revise, you should pay close attention to your thesis statement, evidence, analysis, and conclusions. Have you proven your thesis? Does your paper include adequate evidence and analysis? Does your conclusion provide closure to your main argument?

🖍 Which comes first, revising or editing?

Typically, revision precedes editing, since the latter refers to the actual changes that you make to your paper after revising.

📎 What is the aim of revision?

The aim of revision is to determine if your paper needs substantial changes.

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