GrammarPhile Blog

What Proofreaders Can’t Do

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jan 11, 2024 7:30:00 AM

PRN_Blogpost_01112024Proofreading Doesn’t Fix All the Boo-Boos

If you hire a person to paint your kitchen cabinets, you wouldn’t expect them to renovate your entire kitchen for free. If you go to the dentist for a semiannual cleaning, you wouldn’t blame them for your cavities and expect them to drill them at no cost. If you take a driver’s ed course, you wouldn’t be ticked your instructor didn’t offer to become your complimentary chauffeur.

If we’re wrong, we suggest you read this or this instead.

In the same way, proofreading can do a lot to improve your writing, but some tasks are simply beyond its scope. This isn’t due to a lack of motivation—most proofreaders are overeager to provide great value and exceed your expectations. This limitation is simply a matter of definition—what proofreading is and what it isn’t.

What Proofreading Doesn’t Address

Formatting and Layout

Proofreaders work with the text, not the packaging—that’s a job better suited to a graphic designer. Your software or platform or final file type may have different formatting anyway. And trust us when we say you don’t want people with bubkes in graphic design experience fiddling with your darlings.

Web or Copy Design

We aren’t programmers or web designers, so we won’t make changes directly to your website. This is for your protection and sanity. In addition to being outside the scope of a proofreader’s duties, that sort of arrangement can create security concerns and bring ruin to your day. Your IT department will second that emotion (loudly and angrily).

Industry-Specific Expertise

Most proofreaders and copy editors are generalists—only some of us have a deep understanding of your industry and audience. Our hefty expertise is the language, all the nooks and crannies.

If you need proofreaders who specialize in a subject such as law, medicine, technology, or finance, be prepared to pay a premium. If it’s worth your peace of mind, then it’s worth the extra Benjamins.

Fact-Checking and Research

If you claim in all seriousness that the moon is a manmade satellite/weather balloon suspended 3,000 feet above Earth or that 2 + 2 = 5, your proofreader will almost certainly flag those errors. And we’ll do so in the least snarky way possible.

But proofreaders aren’t equipped to perform in-depth fact-checking. They’ll make sure any URLs included in the text are working, but they won’t call phone numbers or hunt down social media pages. This exclusion is sometimes irrelevant; not every document needs intensive fact-checking. But if it is on your punch list, proofreading won’t cut it.

Style Inconsistencies

We won’t flag every sentence or paragraph that’s lacking logical presentation or singleness of meaning. Proofreading also doesn’t look for ways to maximize the punch of your writing—we don’t rewrite or rearrange sections, even if we are champing (yes, champing, not chomping) at the bit to do so.

If a sentence or section makes no sense, we’ll flag it. But editing the text to make the words flow and the concepts clear and all of your dreams come true* is what we call a style copyediting job, not a standard proofread.


Your proofreader isn’t your writing teacher.

Though our excellent proofreaders often provide context for their corrections, their job isn’t to explain the basis for every mistake. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t rooting for your continued writing improvement or that you can’t improve your writing all on your own.

There are hundreds of well-respected online academies and writing resources for self-directed learning, often for free!

After all the things proofreading doesn’t cover, you may be wondering, “What in the heck does proofreading include?” The answer is “A whole heck of a lot!” Check out these rundowns of our clarity proofreading and style copyediting services.


*No guarantees.


Thanks for reading! We post a new writing guide, spelling quiz, or grammar tip every other week. Be sure to subscribe to our email updates to get them delivered to your inbox. Use the search bar at the top-right of our blog to learn more about specific topics.

Can’t find answers to a grammatical head-scratcher that’s driving you batty? Post a comment below or submit a question directly to our grammar experts. We may even create a new resource or blog post with the answer!


Topics: proofreader, professional proofreading

Subscribe to Email Updates

Sign up for our emails!

Sign Up

Search Our Blog

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all