What is the difference between an editor, a copy editor and a proofreader?
Understanding the different levels of editing will help you to get the best and most appropriate service from your editor.
Whether you are writing for general publishing, a university course, or an education and training provider, what your editor can do for you may not always be clear. Read on to find out how your editor can help you.
As your editor, I will focus on the big picture of your document. This is sometimes called structural editing or substantive editing. An editing job may involve rearranging sections or chapters, paragraphs or sentences to achieve structural cohesion, consistency, completeness and flow.
Editing also considers the tone and readership of your writing, and your editor can make suggestions about how to best pitch your writing.
Independent fiction, memoir and non-fiction
There are three ways to work with your fiction or non-fiction book editor on your manuscript. You can ask for a developmental sample, a structural report or for a structural edit.
Developmental editing – your editor can look at just a few sample chapters of your manuscript and make suggestions about most aspects of your story except for plot and sub-plot. Authors often find this useful in the early stages of their writing, or when they have finished their first draft.
Structural reports – give a detailed overview of your finished manuscript, and include comments about chapter structure and sequence, character development, language, plot and sub-plot, setting, themes, tone and style, what works and what could still need to be developed.
A structural report does not include a mark-up on your manuscript.
Structural editing – may involve suggestions about: headings (if used); chapter structure, sequence and length; paragraph and sentence structure; characters and plot; setting and descriptions; and language. Your editor will mark up your hard- or soft-copy manuscript with changes, comments or queries. This is possibly the most time-consuming of the editing processes and therefore best done after you have redrafted your manuscript several times.
As your copy editor I will focus on the internal accuracy, consistency, clarity and completeness of your document.
If you need it, copy editing may involve checking facts, or making suggestions for re-wording headings or other parts of your document.
You may ask your copy editor to follow your own house style, or they can develop a style for you. This means standardising features such as capitalisation, italics, numbers, headings and hyphenated words, to make sure these are consistent throughout your document, or across a series of documents.
The boundaries between editing, copy editing and proofreading are not always clear.
In business, copy editing and proofreading can be part of the process of editing reports and marketing materials, which is often a role associated with the marketing and communications functions of a business.
An educational or non-fiction copy-editing job can often include some elements of structural editing, as well as proofreading.
Editing students’ academic theses and papers, which is technically copy editing, may occur in two distinct stages: a copy edit stage and a proofreading stage.
For this kind of work your editor will follow the referencing style recommended by the faculty where you are studying.
Fiction copy editing involves a marked-up hard or soft copy of your manuscript that focuses on consistency, accuracy and readability of your story.
As your proofreader I will focus on the accuracy of your final draft. It usually aims to eliminate typos and layout problems, but may also include checking lists, number sequences and cross-references such as page numbers on the table of contents.
In fiction and non-fiction publishing, proofreading is the final stage of document preparation before it goes to a designer, a printer or online.
The scope of a proofreading job may depend on whether the document is a business document, an academic paper or something that will be published commercially.