A corporation is an independent legal entity. The word "corp" is Latin for "body"--a legal, rather than a natural body, generally consisting of a group of people. Through the process of incorporation, the body unites into a formal corporation.
The process of incorporation begins with filing the articles of incorporation.
A corporation's articles of incorporation are a charter, or authorization, that establishes the existence of a corporation in a specific state. Requirements and fees vary from state to state.
The articles outline basic information about the new business. Filed with the Secretary of State's office, the articles of incorporation describe the essential identifying and operating characteristics of the proposed business.
Once approved by the state, the articles legally create the corporation as a registered business entity. It then becomes an "artificial body" with rights, responsibilities, taxes and consequences separate from its incorporators--the group of people who filed the paperwork and who request to merge into a corporation.
The terms often are used interchangeably, when in fact "incorporation" is the process of forming a "corporation."
Once approved, the incorporators become shareholders and the corporation takes on a life of its own.