02 May, 2011

The difference between proofreading and editing

The difference between proofreading and editing

There always has been a dilemma about the difference between proofreading and editing in the world of translation. To many of us, both terms mean the same, but there is actually quite a difference. While proofreading of a given text may take only half an hour, the editing of that very same text can take up to three hours - or even more. So how do these two processes differ?

To begin with, we need to define both terms:

This is a process whereby the text is being scanned for grammar, syntax and spelling errors. This process typically involves much the same correction as a secondary school teacher would perform on a written test. The meaning of words and terminology is irrelevant here, as the job focuses only on the correctness of the text. Therefore, the use of a dictionary is necessary only to check spelling and conjugation, not much else. Also, this work does not involve the use of a CAT tool.

Proofing is best paid by the hour, as not all words are worked on by the proofreader. However, in the case of a very poorly written text, it may come in handy to be paid by the word, especially if more than 50% of words need to be retyped.

Proofreading is something that is used less and less, as most software nowadays automatically corrects the errors that would be picked up by the proofreader. It's almost like having a virtual proofreader built into the software. Typically, proofreading is charged at around 25% of the price that would be charged for the translation of the same text.


This process concentrates less on the form and more on the terminology. Editing involves checking to make sure that correct terminology was used. This is achieved by researching each term that raises a doubt, or even terms that are unknown to the editor, just to make sure that the right terms were used. This typically involves research - whether online or in specialized dictionaries - accompanied by recommended corrections. Usually, when working in Word, the track changes feature is used, and sometimes only comments are added through the commenting tool of Word. In either case, the editor only recommends changes and does not implement them. This is because, when there are errors, it is usually up to the original translator to correct their own mistakes (many translators have a clause in their contract for this, as well as agencies). So, the recommendations of the editor are usually sent back to the translator first so that he/she can correct his/her mistakes, and only then is the text proofread, if it needs to be at all. CAT tools are frequently used for this work, as wrong terms are often used throughout the text and they also need to be replaced. However, search & replace tools will also do in the case of shorter or less complex texts.

Editing is either paid by the hour or by the word. I have done both and both methods work fine. However, keep in mind that, when you charge by the hour, hourly rates for proofreading and editing should not be inferior to the hourly rate you would charge for translation. If you charge USD 40 for translation, charge the same for proofreading and editing also, as you really DID work that many hours. There still will be a big difference in costs for the outsourcer or agency, as the translation of the text will take much more time than its proofreading or editing. The text that will take four hours to translate will only take about one hour to be proofread, so, while the translation would cost USD 160, the proofreading would only cost USD 40, and so forth. Keep this in mind when quoting hourly rates.

What's up with all that?
The reason why it is important to distinguish between these two processes is that, more often than not, outsourcers call editing proofreading and vice versa. While most of them do this only because they don't make a difference between the two, a few of them will actually "lure" you into editing a document - at proofreading rates.

I strongly recommend to get paid for both of these jobs at an hourly rate, as all jobs differ in difficulty. This way, no matter how tough a job is, you will always get what your work is worth.

On a closing note, even if it's not quite the subject, PLEASE, do sign a contract for every job you do, no matter how small. It is the only way you can get paid and the only guarantee that no more than what was agreed in the contract will be expected of you - in other words, you will not need to put in any "volunteer" work.