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.
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 fulfil 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 and 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 a harmonious style.
This is the last step before publication: the hunt for surface errors is a microtask. 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 draw a parallel – revising/rewriting is like finalizing architectural plans, editing is interior design, and proofreading is the job of an anally-retentive clean-up crew.