March 14, 2022
Alright, so I thought, as an editor, it might be important to talk about editing itself.
But there are different types of editing. And, truth be told, they get confusing when you look too closely. As in, they overlap, they’re synonyms – but only sometimes! – some people offer them and others don’t . . . it can be a lot.
I remember researching the differences before I started freelancing, to get more familiar with them. Gotta know your craft and all that.
I looked at so many sites, guys. So many sites. And I took notes that, when I look at them, conflict with things I’ve read on other sites. BUT the good news is, there are three consistent overarching types of editing that are pretty straight forward:
- Developmental editing
- Copy editing (sometimes spelled as one word – both are currently correct)
(I offer all three.)
For this post, I spent some time looking at my notes again to try and decipher the additional kinds. And then I looked at more sites thinking, there must be a definitive answer as to where these things fit.
Spoiler alert: I can’t find one.
Line editing? Sometimes it’s a specific type of copy editing. Sometimes it’s its own thing. Sometimes it’s aligned with substantial editing.
Substantial editing seems to mostly be aligned with developmental editing, but it’s also apparently sometimes aligned with heavy copy editing, or with line editing.
Content editing is maybe developmental editing. I don’t know anymore.
One thing’s for sure when it comes to these things: no matter what you’re asking from an editor that you’re hiring, make sure the editor confirms, in writing, what they’ll be doing for you. Because my definition of copy editing generally includes line editing, but for other editors, that’s a separate beast.
Below are the general concepts of developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading. I’ve included where the subcategories might fall, depending on my understanding/gut feeling and the sources I referred to before my head started spinning (btw, I’ve listed those sources at the bottom). But those overarching categories? You should be good to go.
Sometimes-synonyms/subcategories: structural editing, substantial editing, content editing
Developmental editing might be best understood from a story position. This is the stage where an editor gets their hands on a book/story and focuses on larger elements. This means plot, characters, character arcs, setting, etc. The editor works with the author to iron out the overall picture of the thing they’re creating.
And, as pointed out, this is where structural editing might fall. So does the plot flow in the right order? Do scenes need to be shifted around for better pacing/foreshadowing/logic?
Then comes things like purpose, tone, repetition, and fact-checking (which can also be double checked in copy editing). Still big ideas and concepts that impact the whole story.
As far as something like poetry goes, remember – poems tell stories, too. They’re often just shorter. So does the story make sense? Will a reader actually get what’s being said? Should any of the stanzas be rearranged to make the logic more logical? Is there too much repetition? Does the voice work?
Note a particular thing I didn’t mention in regards to what a developmental editor checks for: spelling and grammar. Yep. That’s not really a concern at this stage. Now, those elements might still be fixed – I for one will correct the spelling of a character name if I come across it – but this stage really is meant for the bigger stuff. Spelling and grammar will be dealt with later.
line editing, stylistic editing
Here we start to narrow the editing focus. We’re no longer dealing with big-picture items like the overall theme, or the plot, or the logic of the book/poem/collection. Now we’re bringing those focuses down to a chapter, a sentence, a scene, a stanza. Are paragraphs in the right order? Should lines be switched around? Does that sentence read logically? Can it be tightened anywhere? Is there a small gap that needs to be addressed? Are thoughts and ways of writing/addressing elements consistent? And, once again, we examine facts for accuracy.
The main difference between copy editing and line editing, should the distinction be made, is that line editing is slightly more specific. It focuses more on the flow of the content and the way it’s written (especially line by line, thus the name). Stylistic editing is essentially everything else, and together they make up copy editing.
Editors also check for spelling and grammar here. But don’t be alarmed if something is missed – that’s what proofreading is for.
The final stage of the editing process. The sifting-through-the-content stage. The minutest-of-the-details stage.
Proofreading is meant to catch any spelling and grammar errors that were missed in the other stages. (Or even created in those stages. It happens.) This is usually the last place a manuscript will end up in a publishing house before it gets printed. Proofreaders sift through the manuscript for a double “the,” those pesky missing commas, missing spaces, too many spaces, dropped s’s, floating apostrophes, and the like.
Usually, these errors are non-negotiable. But in poetry, it can be a tad different.
Even in proofreading, poetry is largely about suggestions. I’ve had to ask clients “did you mean to not capitalize the name of that state?” because for all I know, it’s a stylistic choice. In most cases they come back and say “whoops yeah that’s an error,” but you never know.
By the end of this stage, a manuscript, poem, etc. is expected to be as clean as it possibly can be*. It’s ready for the world!
Content-wise, anyway. You might still need a cover or something.
*Little note here. I say “as it possibly can be” for a reason. You know how in books you sometimes go “there’s an error! They missed that mistake!”? It happens. Proofreaders are, at the end of the day, human. Of course, you don’t want a proofreader who leaves your content riddled with missed errors. But for only a tiny handful to be left, at most? That’s a good result.
So there you have it! A high-level overview of the main types of editing. I hope this gives you a better understanding of what to expect with each 🙂
- “The Different Types of Editing.” Archway Publishing, https://www.archwaypublishing.com/en/resources/the-different-types-of-editing#:~:text=Substantive%20editing%20considers%20a%20work’s,deals%20with%20the%20actual%20prose.
- “Editing Essentials: What is Developmental Editing?” MasterClass, https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-developmental-editing#5-tips-for-the-developmental-editing-process.
- “How to Copy Edit: A Guide to Copy Editing Everything.” MasterClass, https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-guide-to-copy-editing-everything.
- Max, Tucker. “What Are the Different Types of Editing?” Scribe Media, https://scribemedia.com/editing-types/.
- Raja, Shani. Editing Master: How to Edit Writing to Perfection, LinkedIn Learning.
- St. Val, Daphne. Proofreading and Copyediting 101, Universal Class.
- “Substantive Editing.” Editors Canada, https://www.editors.ca/branches/toronto/seminars/Substantive_editing.html.