Types of Editing

Where to Start

Editing has many facets, but it tends to be narrowed down to just one: rules. Grammar, punctuation, typos — it’s the first thing we look for when someone asks us to read through the tricky email, announcement, or advertisement they’re writing. Rules are straightforward. They present a clear right and wrong, and as long as you abide by them, you should be fine. Right?

The problem with language, and English is just as bad for this as any other language, is that the rules are never simple. There are exceptions to every rule and the rules change over time as languages become modernized, words take on new meanings, and old sayings lose their effectiveness. The role of an editor becomes about so much more than catching a stray typo and fixing the tense of a verb.

There are three main stages of editing that each article, manuscript, or other written work will ideally go through before it ends up under the reader’s eyes. These can be done by a single person in multiple rounds, but it can be useful to split the work into stages with different editors for each one, as familiarity with a manuscript often leads to a strange kind of universal blindness for the obvious.

Act One: Developmental Editing

A developmental edit always starts with the big-picture. The developmental editor focuses on everything from character development and plot structure to style, pacing, and continuity within the overall narrative. Whether it’s refining the outline of a medical paper or examining the character arc of a beloved protagonist, developmental editing is the first step to tightening up a draft and getting it ready for the public.

May also be known as structural/stylistic editing or substantive editing.

Act Two: Copy Editing

A copy edit is the next stage in the journey. The copy editor examines the manuscript for correctness, accuracy, and consistency. This can cover issues of word choice, jargon, wordiness, phrasing, and pacing — depending on the thoroughness of the editor. Some elements, such as phrasing and pacing, may be taken care of in the developmental stage, but there is often some overlap between the two.

Copy editing is often mistaken for proofreading, and vice versa.

Act Three: Proofreading

Proofreading is the final stage of editing. This happens after any design and layout decisions have been finalized and implemented. While copy editing occurs while the manuscript is still in editable form as a regular text document (e.g., a Word doc or Google doc), proofreading is only done on a designed proof in PDF form. This is to ensure that the proofreader sees exactly what the manuscript will look like in its final (likely printed) form. A proofreader will review a digital proof (PDF) or physical galley copy of a manuscript for any lingering errors such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, but also for issues with the overall layout and design, such as fonts and spacing.

Proofreading and copy editing (or sometimes just “editing”) are often used interchangeably, but are very different stages.

How Do You Know What You Need?

Many clients approach an editor for the very first time with a request for either a proofread or a generic “edit.” Most often, what they are looking for is a blend of copy editing and proofreading. They want the editor to look for any errors of phrasing, grammar, or punctuation and to keep an eye on the overall layout and design for issues such as pagination or heading and subheading sizes.

Oftentimes, they are either trying to cram far too much into the editor’s role, or they’re asking for the bare minimum for a manuscript that needs more tender, loving care. The decision of which stage to start with should ideally be decided in a conversation between writer and editor after the editor has had a chance to review some samples, and the writer has taken the time to express any vision or goals they have for their work.

Think we’d be a good fit? Contact me today to request a sample edit or discuss your project.

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