If I asked you what I do as an editor, what would you say? I find that the term ‘editing’ holds different meanings for different people: from ‘someone taking over your writing’ to ‘finding any typos’.
Neither is the truth. Well, yes, I do look for typos. But I can do much more than that – depending on what your purpose for your writing is, what editing you decide to have done, and maybe how much your budget is for doing it.
Let me assure you that I don’t ‘take over your writing’! And no other editor should, either. I’m here to support you in achieving your communication goals. So once I know what those are, we can work together to achieve them. It’s your book (or website, or brochure, or …)!
Different types of text editing
So, let me tell you about the different editing tools than can be used to make your message matter.
Developmental and structural editing
These are bigger-picture tools that ensure the work has the most appropriate overall structure for its purpose, that its length and focus are suitable, that its story or argument is flowing and logical, and that the way all its parts are arranged is the best for reaching and engaging its audience or readership.
Developmental editing usually applies to book manuscripts, particularly fiction, but the concept can be used on any writing project, really. It refers to the collaboration between an editor and an author to help the plotline, characters and story (or, in non-fiction, the subject and its delivery) ‘develop’ into the best possible draft, ready for further editing.
Structural editing will look at the whole work’s cohesion, accessibility and navigation to make sure the reader will be able to ‘get into’ the text and connect with it. It looks at the logical flow of the information or story, the balance between any chapters or sections, and the overall pace of the piece. This tool works equally well on shorter texts (like brochures, newsletters, feature articles) and book manuscripts. It’s also a key step in developing web content.
Copyediting and line editing
These involve a detailed review of the language, form and grammar in the document to find and correct typographical errors, lapses in appropriate grammar or word usage, spelling mistakes, text misalignment, errors in number format or punctuation, general factual inaccuracies and style inconsistencies.
The two terms are often used interchangeably in Australia, but there is a slight difference. Line editing works at sentence and paragraph level and looks at word order, sentence structure, tense and voice. Copyediting works at word level and covers errors and inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, factual accuracy, styling, spacing and layout.
This is the very last check of documents, manuscripts, web content or page proofs prior to publication or distribution. Proofreading can involve checking the page layout, page order and numbering, chapter or section numbering and titling, positioning of elements, heading levels and other formatting, and making sure that earlier edits have been accurately incorporated. For a web page or other screen publication, it will also cover checking links, metadata, navigation and other functionalities.
Sidenote: proofreading is not copyediting! Proofreading is a quality control step, copyediting is a polishing step. If your manuscript, website or document has not yet been professionally copyedited, proofreading will not be what’s needed to deliver an engaging, professionally written text. If you’re thinking of requesting a proofread, let’s chat about what exactly you want to achieve in that step: it might be more useful for you to book a copyedit.
The order of things
I’ve explained these editing levels in the order they’re done, but you may not need (or have the budget for) all of them.
It’s a bit like a restaurant menu: it can still be a good experience if you only choose a main course, but if you can have an entrée and dessert as well, it will make the meal something special!
A professional editor will talk with you about your writing project’s purpose, budget and audience before advising what would be the best options. And it’s up to you what you choose from those options.
So don’t be afraid to find out exactly how editing can make your message matter.