If you’re a writer, you must edit and revise your work at some point in the creation process. It just comes with the territory. There are different types of editing that you can take advantage of in the editing process to ensure your work is solid and error-free.
Whether you’re an email marketer, a short story author, or a content creator, you must take time to edit your work. This will help polish up your prose and allow your work to shine.
What is editing?
Writing is only half the work when creating content.
You might have big thoughts and ideas, but they won’t serve you if you can’t communicate them clearly.
First drafts are rarely perfect, even when written by experienced professional writers. No matter how great of a writer you are, typos will slip in and mistakes will be made. A manuscript can always benefit from another set of eyes or an outside perspective before publication. Having a solid editing process will increase clarity and reduce mistakes in your work. This will have the added benefit of improving your credibility as a writer.
Editing is the process that occurs after your ideas are already on the page. It aims to improve your work by addressing the manuscript’s structural and stylistic errors, thereby increasing readability. The revision process entails several different types of editing, which happens in stages, from the rough draft to the final product.
There are several types of editing phases you’ll likely go through when you move from the writing to the revision process. Each distinct stage of the editing process focuses on a different aspect of refining your work to help it become its best version of itself.
Developmental editing, substantive editing, line editing, and copy editing each tackle a specific problem or concern with your writing. This editorial hierarchy begins by addressing big picture issues that affect the overall structure and cohesion of your work. As you progress through the process, editors will begin to take a more narrow focus on more minor fixes, such as word choice, word count, fact-checking and grammatical errors.
There might be some overlap in what these types of editing deal with, but for the most part, they are clear and distinct editing stages.
Hiring a professional editor or self-editing
Self-editing can often be a much more complicated process than you would expect. Editing your own work is challenging because you usually won’t have the perspective required to be an objective critic. You’re likely too close to the work – especially if your writing has any sentimental meaning. This can make it impossible to “kill your darlings,” or remove the unnecessary parts that may drag your work down.
How to self edit
Many writers who choose self-editing employ beta readers to get an objective critique of their work. These beta readers can unveil any gaps or problems in the story structure that might be overlooked in the writing process.
While reviews by beta readers are not the same as a comprehensive edit, they are useful. Their feedback can help you keep your writing on track and are helpful in identifying any weaknesses in your manuscript.
This approach can benefit writers interested in improving clarity in their work despite having a limited budget for editing services.
An excellent self-editing approach requires you to take some time between when you are finished writing and when you begin editing.
Taking a break between writing and the editing process allows you to disengage yourself from the work. This way you can more easily recognize problem areas in your character development or stylistic concerns such as misplaced punctuation and grammar issues.
Hiring a professional editor
When you hire a professional editor will depend on the type of editing you require and where you are in the editing stages.
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A developmental editor is interested in the overall structure of your content and generally focuses on the big picture issues. They are taking a mile-high view of your writing and usually trying to develop a precise plan for your work. You’ll generally want to employ them early in the writing process. Doing so will save you time and help you create a game plan for moving forward with your manuscript.
During a developmental edit, the editor will consider the overall story and structure of the work. They will help you organize your themes and thoughts and establish your tone. (And then maintain it throughout the manuscript). They are primarily concerned with the manuscript as a whole. This means they will not generally delve into line edits or stylistic concerns at this stage.
Developmental editors don’t write or rewrite your work. Instead, their job is to help you become a better writer by guiding you through the writing process. They ask clarifying questions, and then offer suggestions and insight to help you better organize your writing and shape your narrative in a way that makes sense.
A robust developmental edit will help you see how to organize and structure your writing in a way that resonates with your target audience and career goals.
Partnering with an editor for substantive editing takes developmental editing to a lower altitude. It’s still a wide-ranging view of the work and is often part of the services a developmental editor will offer. But, now the editor has moved from planning and developing content to editing the content. The focus is more on the way chapters and paragraphs and plot lines are arranged in the work.
This generally happens after you’ve taken your developmental edits and put them to work.
While organization is still a concern, the editor is dealing with a more complete draft and the work now is to tighten it up.
The editor will read your manuscript, leave notes for you to consider, and often recommend big changes to the structure of your story. For example, they may request that you move entire sections to make the flow better.
Editorial suggestions such as “Introduce this character earlier,” or “This would be a stronger read if we moved this chapter to later in the book” is common feedback given at this stage.
In a substantive edit, your editor may even delete entire sections or suggest adding more information or detail to create a more cohesive piece.
Line editing and copy editing are close cousins. They are often confused, even though they are very different jobs.
A line editor focuses their efforts on reviewing your work line-by-line. This is often called a stylistic edit. In this stage of the editing process, your editor is taking an up-close view of your work.
Line editors will read your work and help you avoid cliches or overused tropes. They’ll offer suggestions for run-on sentences and how to improve the overall flow of your work. A line edit can improve how your work reads, now that the overall structure is set. The revisions in this phase will now focus on stylistic concerns such as word choice, meaning, and clarity.
This type of editing aims to “pretty up” your writing. You’ve got the framework established, and it’s time to decorate. How can you make this scene more visual? What kind of implications does this word have? Does this description fit the overall narrative?
A line edit will even go so far as to examine the arrangement of words in a sentence. If a line editor thinks it can be strengthened by tightening it up or using fewer words, then it will likely be cleaned up to make it more concise.
Working with a good line editor will improve your prose. A good editor will seek to maintain the voice and tone of your work while mercilessly tightening up the copy and making it a better read for your target audience. They’ll help you simplify your writing so the meaning is clear and easily readable.
These editors will point out sticking points that might rub your reader the wrong way – and then provide solutions to fix them.
When your writing and editing process is nearing completion, it’s time to bring in the copy editors. Copy editors have a keen eye for spotting minute errors. These are things that might cause readers to stumble, such as misspelled words, false facts, or poor grammar. Editors performing global edits often miss these small details, which can be embarrassing if left unattended.
Copy editors thoroughly review your content for grammar, punctuation, and spelling and pay particular attention to ensure consistent usage.
A full copy edit will also look for discrepancies in the work, such as whether the right year was referenced.
- (i.e., Did the moon landing happen in 1968 or 1969),
- (i.e., Should it be “Mary Johnson” or “Mary Jonson”).
A copy editor will also search for descriptive inconsistencies. For example, perhaps, in Chapter 1 of your manuscript, you described the character’s horse as a Paint with a “white patch on its left haunch,” but in Chapter 7, the patch has moved to his “right hock.”
It’s a simple error, but one that an eagle-eyed copy editor will catch and correct before your work goes to publication.
Copy editors also perform mechanical editing as well. Mechanical editing focuses on how grammar and style guides are implemented, whether it’s a custom in-house creation or an established, and widely used one such as AP, Chicago, MLA, or Turabian.
Each of these guides has its own conventions, preferences, and specifications that must be taken into consideration and adhered to throughout your copy.
When reviewing your content, a copy editor ensures that the content is appropriately formatted. They will reference the style guide and follow all the requirements down to the requisite font size. They will address any formatting concerns, such as bullet points and spacing, and ensure those are implemented correctly as well.
No matter what kind of writing you are doing, your work will benefit from the services of a professional editor. A professional editor provides the types of editing that will significantly increase your work’s clarity and readability. This, in turn, will make you a stronger writer.
From developmental edits to copy editing, each stage of the editing process works to make your writing as clear and concise as possible. And, in the end, it will help your writing serve its intended purpose.