A simple guide to the different types of editing

Whether you’re looking to have a book manuscript edited, a resume cleaned up, or are in need of some tidier web copy, you’re likely reading this blog post to get a deeper understanding of how the editing process works. Maybe you aren’t sure what kind of editing you need (did you know there are many types of editing?) or maybe you’re just curious about what, exactly, an editor does. Either way, this blog post should help clarify the process.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the different types of editing. To help you also understand how, exactly, Manley Mann can edit your message so that it is heard and understood, I’ve broken the types into two main sections: big-picture editing and detailed editing. Enjoy!

Step 1: The Big Picture

The first step, when a piece of writing goes to the editing table, is for the editor to examine big-picture items. Depending on what you need edited, this can mean different things.

  • For book manuscripts: structure, plot, character development, order, information included, redundancies and relevance
  • For web copy: problem—>solution structure, client-focused language, engaging/compelling voice, relevance
  • For resumes: quantitative evidence to back up skills, clear headings, order of information, relevant information included, information gaps
  • For non-fiction documents (books, annual reports, academic articles): order, information gaps, reading level, comprehension, redundancies

I always tell new clients to expect me to ignore spelling and grammatical errors at this stage, as my focus is on those big-picture items. I use a different part of my brain for detailed items, and until we nail down the bigger things, those tiny details do not matter. (Also many of those words won’t even make it to Step 2 anyway, so why spend time working them?)

Big-picture editing includes structural/substantive editing and developmental editing. These terms are often used interchangeably and the tasks I’ve outlined can overlap.  This is a general description and it’s up to the individual editor to clarify with their clients what is included.

Structural/Substantive Editing: Usually the first stage of the editing process. This is where an editor examines a piece of writing for content, logic, and flow. Is everything in order? Is everything necessary? Is this the best tense/voice? Are there redundancies? In fiction, the characters themselves are examined for role, depth, and omissions, and the storyline is reviewed for comprehension, originality, and reader attractiveness. In non-fiction, the editor looks for information gaps, the order of information presented, and intended reader level.

Tasks may include:

  • Cutting words, sentences, paragraphs, sections
  • Flagging for an idea to be expanded
  • Flagging for any material that may require permission or fact checking
  • Suggesting alternative or creative ways of presenting the material
  • Assessing for overall relevancy to the intended audience

Developmental Editing: This involves all of the tasks outlined under structural editing but sometimes involves more of a coaching process. For fiction writers, an editor may give deadlines for specific chapters and be available for brainstorming consults. For non-fiction writers, an editor may assist in research requests, fact checking, and source verification.

Depending on the level of edit required and requested, the editor may conduct various passes of a piece of writing to resolve big-picture items before progressing to the next phase.

Step 2: It’s All in the Details

Once all the big ticket items have been taken care of, it’s time to examine the nitty gritty details that are just as important. No matter how brilliant the ideas are, if they are poorly expressed or the reader is distracted by grammatical errors, these ideas will get overlooked.

The second stage of editing involves reading at the word and line level. For this level of editing, I use more of my analytical brain, whereas I use more of my creative brain for Step 1.

This stage of editing involves a similar process, regardless of the type of document you need edited. Whether you’re looking to tidy up a resume, a blog post, an academic article, web copy, or a manuscript, this stage focuses on ensuring your message is heard and not clouded by inaccurate or inappropriate language or grammatical errors.

Here are the various types of editing that fall under this broad category:

Line Editing/Stylistic Editing: This type of editing involves reading a piece of writing, line by line, ensuring that every word is needed and appropriate. Additionally, the editor is reading to ensure each sentence makes sense and flows from the previous sentence.

Tasks include:

  • Refining language
  • Eliminating jargon, offensive/exclusive language, and overused expressions
  • Reviewing sentence length

Copyediting: Copyediting is what comes to most people’s mind when they picture what an editor does. At this stage of editing, an editor focuses on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Word repetitions are caught, and any incorrect word choices that were not caught in the line editing stage might also be spotted.

Other tasks that can fall under copyediting include:

  • Fact checking
  • Tables, figures, lists
  • Consistency in stylistic and grammatical choices
  • Consistency in character’s names, physical description
  • Creating and applying a style sheet/guide (for more information on what, exactly, a style sheet is, check out this blog post, which also includes a link to various templates)
  • Checking web links
  • Checking front and back matter, as well as the cover blurb
  • Checking header levels

Sometimes an editor will combine line editing with copyediting. When you hire an editor, it’s always good to have a clear understanding of what tasks you require and what your editor is offering. My personal style is a blend of line and copy, for example, but I know editors who separate the two types.

Proofreading: The final stage, after all the copy has been approved, is proofreading. At this stage, the editor is reading for any errors that somehow slipped through previous stages of editing (it happens). No editing on any big-picture things should be happening at this stage. If the document is one that will be given out in print form (e.g., brochures, annual reports, ads, magazine articles), ideally, proofreading will happen with these graphics included (either via printed version or a PDF).

Other tasks that falls under proofreading:

  • Examining inconsistencies between text and graphics (e.g., if an ad is promoting a specific item, ensure that the graphic isn’t of something completely different)
  • Looking at page breaks and where the text lies (i.e., some text will have a completely different meaning if separated, and you want to avoid misunderstandings, even for the second it takes to turn a page)
  • Reviewing graphics for inconsistencies and errors (e.g., If a piece of text states a numerical value that is supplemented by a visual—think grade-school math text—, an editor makes sure the two align)

Other Tasks

Editors also specialize and conduct in other tasks, too, including:

  • indexing
  • rights and permissions
  • translations (comparative editing)
  • fact checking
  • formatting
  • researching
  • rewriting, copywriting, ghostwriting
  • web editing

It is important to note that not many editors do all of the above. Many qualified ones will specialize in a few areas and have established contacts they can recommend for services they do not offer. (For example, I specialize in structural, line, and copyediting, and I can also edit specifically for the web. I have above-average research skills to lend, as well. But I do not fact check, index, translate, or acquire permissions. Any copywriting and ghostwriting services needed, I enlist the help of Jaime.)

Now you should have a better understanding of not only what an editor does, but the types of services you may require for your writing. When enlisting the services of an editor, it’s important to understand what, exactly, those services are. If you’d like to talk further about how to get your message heard and understand, please reach out.