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Writing

5 Types of Editing: Which Is Best for Your Writing?

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 6 min read

So you’ve just finished writing your latest news article or short story. Congratulations! You may think that the next step is to get it published, but there’s actually a stage between writing and publication that is vital to any piece of work—and that stage is editing.

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What Is Editing?

Editing is the process by which a person improves a piece of writing and makes it adhere to a specific style guide to get it ready for publication. Style guides include The Chicago Manual of Style (used primarily for literary print publications) and The AP Stylebook (used primarily for newspaper and journalistic publications).

There are several different types of editing—from developmental editing to proofreading—and they are often thought of as stages in the editorial process; a piece of writing begins in the more extensive editing phases and progresses to lighter and lighter edits. The kind of editing that is required for any specific piece of writing depends both on how far along the piece is in the writing process (polished pieces may need only a quick line edit) and what the preferences and prestige of the publishing house are—smaller houses may only budget for lighter edits, while serious publishing companies may require more extensive edits before publication.

5 Different Types of Editors

Just as there are many types of editing, there are many different types of editors, and each editor has a different role in the publication process.

  1. Editor in chief. The editor in chief is the head of a publication. They usually don’t do a lot of official editing work and are more preoccupied with running the publication, managing things like budget, advertising, and overall scope of the publication.
  2. Managing editor. The managing editor oversees a team of editors and makes sure that edits are made appropriately and consistently. The managing editor may also conduct trainings, hire new editors, and oversee acquisitions for the publication.
  3. In-house editor. An in-house editor is an editor who works for one publication only. They do the editing work—making sure writing is clear and well-organized, ensuring writing conforms to a specific style guide and conducting fact-checking.
  4. Freelance editor. A freelance editor is someone who doesn’t work for a specific publication but is hired on an hourly basis to do editing work. Overall, freelancers’ work is much the same as an in-house editor’s.
  5. Copy editor. A copy editor’s role is varied, depending on the publication or job. They can be either freelance or in-house. Often a copy editor is tasked with checking for grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and fact-checking a piece. They are usually more detail-oriented than other types of editors, focusing on the mechanics of the piece rather than the overall content and tone.
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What Is a Developmental Edit?

A developmental editor looks at the big-picture issues in a manuscript. This involves doing a read-through of the entire piece to offer writing tips based on what the article, short story, essay, or book needs as a whole. They do a thorough manuscript evaluation to make sure your story has strong strong motivations for your characters, believable plot points, powerful tension, and interesting themes. A manuscript critique from a developmental editor might point out that a character is boring, that the plot has holes, that there isn’t enough tension or the plot is too cliché to make the story interesting. If you’ve just finished your first draft and are looking for an editor for the first time to critique your story, a developmental editor might be the beta reader you’re looking for.

Learn more about developmental editing in our guide here.

What Is a Structural Edit?

The definition of structural editing is in the name: this type of editor is concerned with the story’s structure. They will read your entire book and give you advice on what kind of structures might best suit the kind of story you’re telling. For example, your story might benefit from using flashbacks to help give a backstory for a character. Or maybe you’re using too many flashbacks and distracting the reader’s attention, so they would recommend a more linear approach. They might also comment on the amount and length of chapters you’re using and how long your book is.

Many developmental content editors provide structural editing services as well, so you might ask them to perform this type of edit as well since you’ll want this early on in the writing process. They’ll provide you with structural feedback just like they would in a developmental edit.

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What Is a Line Edit?

A line editor is not the same as a copy editor, though these are often confused. Line editing (often called “stylistic editing”) focuses on your prose from a content and flow perspective. This editor will consider word choice, sentence structure, the tense you’ve chosen, and how you’ve chosen to describe scenes and images. They will critique the sound of your prose and the way your word usage works to create a pleasurable and engaging experience for the reader. A line editor will be looking at your prose from a style perspective rather than a mechanical perspective like a copy editor will. If you don’t feel like your prose sounds as smooth as you had hoped, a line editor is who you should call.

Find out more about line editing in our guide here.

What Is a Copy Edit?

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Feel like your story is in a good place and you’re ready for someone to tear apart your spelling and grammar? Call a copy editor. This is the kind of editor who will pick apart your entire manuscript at the sentence level to look for errors like typos, inconsistencies, or confusing sentence structures that affect readability. Copy editors are often called mechanical editors since they aren’t concerned with the content of the story as much as the correctness of the language. They want to make sure you’re using dialogue tags correctly and spelling your character’s names right every time so your reader can focus on the story.

You should know what a copy editor’s skill set includes so you can anticipate what they’ll be looking for and why. Their skills include the following:

  • Punctuation: The most common punctuation copy edits include commas, dashes, hyphens, and semicolons
  • Capitalization: Some words might need to be capitalized in certain usages.
  • Spelling: Including any possible typos
  • Grammar: The most common grammar copy edits are for subject-verb agreement and tense
  • Word usage: Editors will be able to tell you what is most common usage and how to appeal to the widest reader base
  • Repetition: Are you using the same word too often? could it be substituted for something else?
  • Fact-checking information: Editors will check that what you are saying is, indeed, true.
  • Point of view or POV: Editors are there to fix any inconsistencies a piece of writing may have
  • Descriptions: Editors will make sure that all character descriptions and locations are consistent and will make sense to the largest number of readers

Find our complete guide to copy editing here.

What Is Proofreading?

A proofreader is the last line of defense in the editing process to make sure no errors got through to your final manuscript. A proof is a draft of the final version of your book, so it’s the last chance to make edits before it goes to publication. Your proofreader will be looking for everything your copy editor was looking for, searching with a fine-toothed comb for any errors that might have gotten through on accident. Many proofreaders will work with the printed, hard-copy version to look for any issues that got introduced during the design process, such as with typesetting or line or page breaks. They’ll be looking at captions on illustrations, the general page layout, page-numbering accuracy, the table of contents, the index (if there is one), and even the text on the back cover.

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