Editing: Part 2 – What are the different kinds of editing?

In the first installment of the series, we talked about what editing is: preparing written material for publication or presentation. This series specifically covers self-editing: preparing your own work to publish, to submit to a publication, or – if you’re a freelancer – to turn in to your client.

Now, let’s talk about different kinds of editing. I’m not trying to present the definitive explanation of every kind of editing. Not everyone agrees, and you don’t need to be an expert in editing to edit your own work. However, recognizing differences among kinds of editing will help ensure that you do all the editing you should do on your manuscript. You will also work more effectively with editors – freelancers or publishing house employees – if you know what they mean.

In the publishing FAQs on the Web site of the Small Publishers Association of North America, Creative Minds Press says

There are two kinds of editing and then there’s proofreading.

The Bay Area Editors’ Forum describes a dozen kinds of editing. The Editors’ Association of Canada lists a similar number … but with differences in names and definitions.

Many tasks (such as permissions editing and project editing) relate to publishing houses rather than to writers self-editing their own work. If you get a contract with a traditional publisher for your manuscript, familiarize yourself with the different kinds of editors who will be working on your book. If you want to know how to edit your own work, however, you don’t need to know what markup/coding is.

I think the following categories cover what you need to do in self-editing:

  • Content editing – also called developmental, substantive, or structural editing; revising; rewriting
    • Revising or moving entire paragraphs or sentences
    • Adding new material to fill in gaps and deleting original material that doesn’t work
    • Re-organizing and restructuring content to improve flow and clarity
  • Copyediting – also called line, mechanical, or stylistic editing
    • Correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, and mechanics
    • Checking that the content follows the appropriate style guide or internal style sheet
    • Verifying facts and ensuring consistency
    • Clarifying meaning and improving readability by changing word choices and sentence structure
  • Proofreading
    • Reading the final copy of the manuscript to check for errors
    • Ensuring that all changes have been incorporated and that no errors have slipped in during the editing process

Not everyone will agree with these descriptions, but I think authors self-editing their own work will be more effective if they look at editing as a process involving these three elements.

You may see different terminology on Web sites of individuals and companies offering editing services. If you plan to hire a freelance editor, be sure to understand what they mean by the terms they use. You will also see options of “light,” “medium,” and “heavy” editing. Again, these terms won’t mean the same to everyone, so you need to make sure you understand exactly what the editor will do. Most editors will give you a free sample edit of a small part of your work. Take advantage of those offers to see if what the editor does matches what you expect.

I offer only one level of editing, what would be described as “heavy” by most people. Although I realize no manuscript will reach perfection, I’m not comfortable with doing less than the best I can. The only “light” edit I ever did taught me to stick with “heavy” edits. Writers who want to create the best work they can will accept nothing less than “heavy” edits from themselves.

Next time, we’ll talk about when and how to start editing your work. In the meantime, I’d like to know your reaction to the categories of self-editing described above. Did I leave out something important to you? Did I include anything you don’t think should be part of the editing process? Leave a comment and let us know.

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