Types of Editing: And Which One You Need
You’ve put in the hard work and finally finished your manuscript. Congratulations!
Now, it’s time for you to step into the wonderful world of editing and turn your words into
something that’s fit for readers’ eyes. With a lot of technical terms and conflicting
information out there, it can be hard to know what you need in an editor, and what kind of
editing is right for your project.
Let’s start simple. There are three main stages of editing: content editing, copy editing and
proofreading. Ideally, in the publishing process, your manuscript should go through each
one; however, depending on the specifics of your project and your budget, you may need to
I’ve broken down the key differences — and what to expect with each — so that you can
choose the type of editing suitable for you and your work.
Content editing is known by a range of different names: developmental editing, structural
editing, substantive editing or macro editing. It can be confusing to a novice writer taking
their first plunge into the world of publishing but, no matter what you call it, the purpose of
a content edit is the same — to focus on the bigger picture and make sure that your work
makes sense to a reader.
A content editor provides general feedback on your work, and may ask questions like:
Does the plot make sense? Are there any strings left (unintentionally) unaddressed?
How are the themes of the book handled? Do they work well with the plot, or do they impede it? Are there enough, or too many?
Is the voice/point of view consistent and coherent enough to tell the story? Is it believable? How many POVs are used—is it enough (or too many) for the story you’re trying to tell?
Are your characters developed enough? Do they behave in believable ways, or do they occasionally act out of character? Do the characters sound like real people when they speak or are their lines just used to move the plot forward?
Is the pacing effective? How does the tension build? Is the action structured in the most logical and engaging way?
Does the story flow? Is your plot bogged down by backstory or unrelated tangents?
For non-fiction or academic manuscript editing, a content editor may focus on the thesis of your writing, the clarity of your arguments and their organisation in the text, and the
suitability of the pace and tone for the audience, among other things.
As many publishers are hesitant to invest in a manuscript, they’ll have to do a lot of
structural overhaul on, and this can be an important step if you intend on getting your work
traditionally published. If you’re self-publishing, a structural edit can also be invaluable; a
content editor can help you consolidate both the vision and execution of your writing.
It’s important to know that going with this type of editing takes a lot of work, from both you
and your editor. It’ll be worth it in the end, though, making your writing a lot stronger!
Copy editing is what most people think of when they say the word “editing”. This stage is all
about paying attention to the small details that make up your manuscript, looking at the
text line by line.
This step is one of the last in the publishing process and should be completed after you
have finalised the overall structure and narrative of your work — it wouldn’t make sense to
spend lots of time correcting a section that will be deleted later, right?
Copy editors can:
Correct your spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, and syntax
Ensure consistency, both in the work itself by checking continuity and in the language you use (e.g., character names and general spelling; use of hyphenation, numerals and fonts; capitalisation)
Fact-check and flag any areas of concern
Improve the overall flow, making sure that each sentence is coherent and works with those around it
Basically, it is a copy editor’s job to make your writing as readable as possible.
If you intend to self-publish your work or have already worked through any major kinks in
your plot with a critique group, you may only need a copy edit. This is a step that absolutely
should not be skipped; even if you’ve reviewed your work a hundred times, there will still be
errors your brain will simply not register.
Proofreading is the last line of defence before your work goes public.
This is the final step of the editing process, making sure that all the errors identified in the
copy editing stage have been rectified and that no other mistakes have been missed. Many
people confuse copy editing and proofreading; the difference is that, while both do correct
any errors they might encounter, manuscript proofreading is more focused on the final
results, tidying up your writing and making sure it’s ready to go out into the wild.
Even though it is nearly impossible to capture every single mistake — famous writers from
JK Rowling to James Joyce have been published with typos — effective proofreading can be
the difference between professional, polished work and an off-putting mess. Proofreading
is a promise of quality, something that your readers will appreciate.
Proofreading tasks include:
Checking the layout of your text—is everything on the right page? Are the spacing and formatting correct? Any elements (text, pictures, chapter titles, diagrams, etc.) missing?
Checking for any spelling, typographical, grammatical and punctuational errors
Giving the work a final read-through
This is the quickest form of editing. At this stage, there should be only minor changes; if
anything major is needed, another copy edit may be necessary.
If you’re interested in content editing, copy editing or proofreading services, reach out and
say hello! I’ll be happy to go over your project with you and provide a free quote, so you’ll
know exactly what type of editing is the best suited to your needs.