The Science Editor Banner Image

Proofreading and Editing - What's the difference?

Proofreading, copyediting, and substantive editing are all important stages in the academic writing process, but there is sometimes confusion about what each one involves and what it's for. Each one serves a different purpose and addresses different issues in the text and it's important that you choose the right level of editing for your text, otherwise, you may not get the results that you hoped for.

This blog article defines proofreading, copyediting, and substantive editing, and also tries to give you an idea of which one to choose.


Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process when the text is carefully reviewed to identify and correct any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. The goal of proofreading is to ensure that the text is error-free and easy to read so that the document is clear and professional in appearance.

Proofreading is typically done after the text has been written, edited, and revised and just before it is submitted or published. If English isn't your first language or if the text hasn't been carefully checked by an experienced, English-speaking scientist, then you may wish to consider copyediting, or even substantive editing, before submission.

If your text is ready to be proofread, then see The Science Editor Proofreading Page.


Copyediting is a stage in the editing process that focuses on improving the style and clarity of a written document to improve readability, eliminate redundancy, and ensure consistency. It involves making sure that the text is well organized, the sentences are clear and concise, and the meaning is conveyed effectively. Copyediting also includes many of the elements performed during proofreading, including checking for consistency in spelling, punctuation, and formatting, but goes beyond that to check for clumsiness or ambiguity in the text.

Copyediting may also include fact-checking, checking for plagiarism, and making sure that the document follows the required style guide. Overall, the goal of copyediting is to make sure that the text is polished and ready for publication or submission.

Copyediting is typically done before proofreading and is suitable for documents written by ESL (English as a second language) authors.

If your text is ready for copyediting, then see The Science Editor Language Editing Page.

Substantive editing

Substantive editing, also known as developmental editing, is a comprehensive form of editing that is focused on the content and structure of a written document. It involves making sure that the argument is clear and well-supported, that the evidence is relevant and credible, and that the text is well-organized and easy to follow. Substantive editing is typically done at an early stage of the writing process and before the text is finalized. It may involve making significant revisions to the text, such as rewriting sections, adding or deleting information, and reorganizing the content to improve the overall flow and coherence of the document.

The editor will work closely with the author to understand their intended message and help to convey it more effectively to the readers. This may include suggesting new content, reorganizing the structure of the document, and providing feedback on the author's argument and conclusions.

Substantive editing requires expertise in the subject matter and the conventions of academic writing. The goal is to help the author produce a well-written, well-structured, and compelling document that effectively communicates their ideas.

If your text is at an early stage and requires substantive editing, then see The Science Editor Science Editing Page.


In summary, proofreading is the final stage of editing and focuses on correcting errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Copyediting is an earlier stage and focuses on improving style and clarity and checking for consistency. Substantive editing is the most comprehensive form of editing and focuses on the content and structure of the text, and may involve making significant revisions.

The Science Editor Banner Image

The Science Editor Services