What Are the Different Types of Editing?

So you’ve written a manuscript—now what?

Distinguishing between types of editing can be difficult and confusing. Not only is there the order to be concerned with, but the lines between the levels can become blurry, and sometimes a single type of editing can be referred to by multiple names.

Here is a quick guide to help you decipher the next steps for your manuscript.

1. Self-Editing

Before you hand your manuscript over to be professionally edited, make some revisions on your own. Turn a critical eye to things like plot and structure as well as word usage and punctuation. Look for sections that don’t make sense, occur out of order, feel too fast or slow, or should simply be removed. You may end up going through several drafts before a professional ever sees your manuscript. Once you’ve made all your revisions, run spell-check.

What this edit is not: Self-editing does not replace professional editing—even professional editors need other editors to look at their writing.

2. Developmental Editing

This is big-picture thinking. A developmental editor looks at the manuscript as a whole and offers feedback on plot, structure, pacing, characterization, style, and tone. Because major rewriting and reorganization can happen at this stage, this level of edit should happen first (after self-editing, of course).

What this edit is not: Developmental editing does not involve sentence-level edits such as fixing punctuation, grammar, or spelling.

3. Line Editing

Also called substantive editing, line editing looks at organization on a closer level. It involves rewriting to avoid ambiguity, tightening loosely written sections, improving the flow of sentences and paragraphs, and revising repetition and inconsistencies. This is where things get a bit blurry. Some editors include copyediting as part of the line editing process, and similarly, a heavy copyedit can sometimes look a lot like a light line edit.

What this edit is not: A line edit is not a developmental edit; it does not include feedback on plot or overall structure.

4. Copyediting

A copyeditor zooms in even further, examining each word and punctuation mark. This stage involves correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other mechanical errors as well as things like indentation and spacing, word usage, and deviations from the style guide. Editors often offer multiple levels of copyediting, ranging from simply correcting errors to offering suggestions for wordy or awkward passages.
What this edit is not: A copyedit does not include fact-checking, so it is advisable to confirm all facts before this stage.

5. Proofreading

Proofreading is the very last edit before your manuscript is published. At this level, the editor is simply looking for errors that slipped through or were introduced during earlier stages of revision and layout. This is often done on printed page proofs or a pdf so that the editor is looking at the manuscript as it will appear in its final form, though it can also be done in a word processor, especially if the text is intended for a website or other nonbook form.

What this edit is not: Proofreading should not be the only level of editing done on a manuscript; it should occur after multiple other rounds of edits as a form of quality control.

Putting It All Together

To reach its full potential, your manuscript needs to go through all five levels of editing in the order outlined above. Of course, since some of them overlap, the editing process can be slightly condensed. For example, I offer multiple levels of copyediting, and the heaviest copyedit looks a bit like a line edit/copyedit combo. Click here for more information on my editing services.