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Proofreading vs Revising: What is the difference between proofreading and revising?

Have you ever been confused when asked to “revise” or “proofread” your research paper? You’re not alone! Many researchers struggle to differentiate between these two crucial stages of the writing process, and aren’t sure at which stage they can seek professional assistance. In this blog post, we’ll clarify the differences between proofreading and revising and understand when you need to revise or proofread your paper.

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading, in essence, involves carefully reading your paper in order to spot and fix grammatical errors, punctuation mishaps, typos, and inconsistent format. It’s all about the nitty-gritty details that can affect the first impression anyone has of your manuscript. Think of it as the final polish before submitting your article to a journal or publisher.

Here’s the kind of change you could make during proofreading:

In this study, we hypothesized that when mammalian cells are exposed to oxidative stress, the expression levels of Gene ABCDE increases.

What is Revising?

Now, let’s talk about revising. Unlike proofreading, revising focuses on the bigger picture. When you revise your paper, you primarily focus on its content as well as overall structure and organization. You might add or remove data and citations, reorganize paragraphs, alter arguments, replace figures with tables and vice versa, and insert or delete sections. In essence, revising is about making sure your paper contains compelling evidence rather than just polishing its language.

Another important distinction is that a professional editor or proofreading service can help you proofread your paper. However, only you and your co-authors can revise your paper for intellectual content. For example, an editor or proofreader can’t change your hypotheses or how you interpret your results.

Here’s an example of the kind of change you might make while revising your paper:

The moderate strong relationship found in this study between parental psychological distress and adolescent addictive behaviors supports the conclusions of Wilson et al. (2023) but contradicts the findings of Davis et al. (2022). This discrepancy may be due to the use of self-reported measures in Davis et al.’s study as well as differences in the socioeconomic composition of the study populations.

Revising vs. Proofreading: How Are They Different?

So, what sets revising apart from proofreading? In a nutshell, revising deals with the substance of your paper—its data and arguments—while proofreading is about its surface appeal, such as grammar, punctuation, and presentation. Think of your paper as a cake: all the beautiful frosting and fondant in the world is useless if the cake itself is dry and tasteless. Once you’ve tweaked your recipe to produce a moist, flavorful cake, you can then decorate it to make it visually appealing.

The table below can help you understand the differences between revising and proofreading more easily.

Revising Proofreading
Changes to data, citations, and arguments Changes to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and format
Done earlier in the manuscript preparation process or after peer review Done just before submission or resubmission to a journal or before final publication
Time-intensive Fairly quick, depending on authors’ writing skills and experience
AI tools currently offer very limited support Can be done using AI tools, with final sign off by the authors
Outside the scope of professional language editing Almost always included in professional language editing

What Comes First, Proofreading or Revising?

Logically, it’s generally advisable to complete all revisions to your paper before proofreading. Why? Because revising involves making substantial changes to your paper, which could introduce new errors in language or presentation (for example, when deleting a paragraph, you leave an extra period or line break in).

Once you are confident about the overall structure and content of your paper, including all your data and citations/references, you can then focus on fine-tuning the language and presentation through proofreading.

What is the Difference Between Revising and Editing?

Now, in the midst of all this, you might be wondering about editing. Editing has a broader scope than proofreading. While proofreading addresses grammatical errors and consistency, editing focuses on ensuring clarity, coherence, tone, flow, and overall readability. At the editing stage, you generally don’t alter content or change data, but you do make sure your writing is clear and free of awkward or non-native constructions.

If you’re a native English speaker and a seasoned author, you might not need to spend much time editing your paper. After you revise your paper for data and organization, you can start proofreading it to catch any inadvertent errors you’ve let slip.

Do You Really Need to Revise and Proofread Your Research Paper?

Absolutely! Both revising and proofreading are indispensable steps in the writing process. Skipping either of these stages can compromise the quality of your research paper. If you’re unsure of your language skills or are super busy, a professional editing or proofreading service can help you make sure that your paper is grammatically correct and readable.

But remember, your goal as a researcher is not only to present useful evidence but also to communicate this evidence clearly and persuasively so that it can be used by other scientists, policymakers, and the public. So, take the time to revise for substance and proofread for polish—you’ll thank yourself later!

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