Copyediting & 3 Other Types of Word Editing

The four levels of editing in publishing and how they differ.

Most people are aware that editing is a part of the creative process, but may not fully understand how vital it is in making a polished final product. has multiple articles on how movie editors have either ruined or saved a film, but the process is slightly different in publications like books, newspapers, magazines, and web articles. I’ll go into more detail with the various genres in another post, but for the most part, there are four main types of word editing.

1. Proofreading

This is the most basic form of editing, checking only for punctuation, spelling, and the most egregious grammar errors (verb tense, syntax, etc.). This is also the stage where you check the format, making sure it looks nice and well-organized, and all the elements (such as headers and page numbers) are in their proper places. It’s usually fast work, as you’re basically checking for things that the copyeditor might’ve missed (we’re only human!).

2. Copyediting

This is what I do! Besides doing basic proofreading (spelling, punctuation, etc.), you also check for word flow, word choice, paragraph structure, and whether the content makes sense. This can be time-consuming if there are many errors, but your job is to make the text as good as it can possibly be – without fully rewriting everything, as you might be tempted to do. How much you’re allowed to change depends on the client; I’m usually given free reign in moving sentences around, changing a few words here and there, but I almost never do anything more substantial. For one thing, I may be missing a point that the author is trying to make, and changing it would actually ruin the piece, and also, that’s not my job! Pure content issues are for the writer to deal with and the developmental editor. Copyeditors also doublecheck resources, hyperlinks, name spelling, and that there is an overall consistency to the text.

3. Line Editing

Also known as substantive editing, this is basically a step above copyediting. Line editors are less concerned with spelling and punctuation than with the actual words. Here is usually where paragraphs, sections, and even chapters are moved around and changed, and rewriting might be necessary to fix voice, style, readability, and how the story moves forward. It’s a more in-depth process, and requires some amount of communication between author and editor.

4. Developmental Editing

This is probably what most people would consider an editor’s job to be. You work with a client from manuscript to final product,  and make suggestions for plot, characters, themes, symbolism, pacing, and overall coherency. Your job is to make the text readable, marketable, and sellable (totally a word). If copyeditors go sentence by sentence, developmental editors go chapter by chapter. Authors have to be comfortable with them rewriting, rearranging, and outright deleting entire pages, and giving more criticisms than compliments. A good editor should be able do all this, and have both parties be sane and happy by the end.

As you can see, there is a great deal of variance under the arching umbrella of “editing.” You may find that you’re good at development, but not so hot with grammar issues. That’s okay! Focus on what makes you the most comfortable, and branch out as you gain more experience. And don’t forget to read, read, read. Good writing, bad writing, so-so writing – anything and everything helps you learn what works and what doesn’t, which is not only useful for writers, but editors as well!

If you’re an editor and have some advice for newcomers, feel free to chime in with a comment!



“Editing a Paper” by Nic McPhee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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