Four Kinds of Editing (plus one) – What type do I need?


by Karen Newcombe

When people call me about editing a document, they're often surprised when I ask them what level of editing they will need. Editing is editing, right? If it were straightforward, then your software would be able to do a nice job for you. We all know that the grammar checking systems in software can help you pick up major errors, but they can't handle the subtleties of complex language, or identify where your flow of ideas has snarled up into a knot. 

There are four generally accepted levels of editing:

Developmental Editing (also called Substantive Editing): The editor reviews your document for structure, coherence, and the flow of ideas. Is your writing aligned with the purpose of your document, or have you drifted off track? Do the ideas jump around or proceed in a logical stream from one to the next? Have you included sections or concepts that really belong in a different document? At this level, your editor will also look at whether your chapters are in the right order, or if structural changes are needed for the work to make sense to your readers. Your editor will also look for substantiation of facts and clarity about when personal opinions are being expressed. 

Line Editing: This process looks at your paragraph and sentence structure and refines your writing. The purpose here is to fix overly complicated paragraphs and sentences, remove repetitions, improve clarity, correct the voice and tone, get rid of slang or industry jargon, define terminology, and much more. The editor will suggest changes or often rewrite sentences or paragraphs to make them shine. 

Copyediting: This is what most people thing of as editing – bringing your text into alignment with the rules of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, correct word usage, and conformance with the style required by your publisher, such as AP or Chicago Style. In this phase such diverse work occurs as making sure nouns and pronouns agree, that citations are correct and standardized, and that numbers, foreign words, quotation marks and other punctuation follow the appropriate format. Line Editing and Copyediting are often considered to be two aspects of the same process. 

Proofreading: This last step puts the final polish on your document. Here the proofreader is looking for errors in transcription such as too many spaces between a period and the start of a new sentence, transposition of letters, missing words, spelling mistakes – especially those not detectable by your spellcheck, such as "She red the manuscript carefully." In my experience, even a document that has been reviewed by several people always turns out to have a few misspelled or missing words. Proofreading is helped by letting the document sit untouched for a few days, then reviewing it with fresh eyes. 

A fifth form of editing I would add to this list is ESL Editing: the review of documents written in English by non-native speakers. Thanks to the breadth of the former British Empire and the predisposition of the Internet towards English, English is currently the international language of business and science. For anyone writing in English whose primary language is another one, it can be invaluable to have a native English-speaking editor review your work. 

Editing is a skill that improves with training and experience. The English language changes rapidly, so what passed for a lovely sentence in 1914 sounds stilted today. A good editor keeps up with the constant changes in our language, tracks grammar and style requirements, and may even be conversant in the language conventions of specialized fields. 

Your business or personal reputation is on the line every time you write, so finding a good editor experienced in the right level of editing is a worthy investment. 

Photo credit: Domiriel / Foter /CC BY-NC 2.0

232QAWS© Karen L. Newcombe 2016     Email:   Phone: 954-428-5457