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How Shall We Define ‘Editing’?

How would you define “editing”? Are you clear on what it means to you?

How about “developmental editing,” “copyediting,” or “proofreading”?

If you don’t have a clear definition in mind, you may be surprised to learn that the publishing industry doesn’t either. No standardized definitions exist for the various stages of the editorial process.

This can cause confusion when it comes to preparing a piece of writing for final publication. What kind of editor do you need? What do you want them to do?

When you work with another person on such tasks for a given project, you should address early in the conversation how you each understand the definitions. Not to figure out who’s “right” or “wrong,” but to make sure you and your writer or editor are on the same page with the editorial goals you seek to accomplish.

As an independent creator or publisher, you get to define the level of editing you need.

Here’s what proofreading and copyediting mean when it comes to my services:

  • Proofreading: Editing for spelling, punctuation, and grammar only
  • Copyediting: Making edits for spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as well as more extensive suggestions involving weaknesses, errors, or inconsistencies in style, meaning, word choice, voice, and even design

Both of these types of editing come at the final-draft stage of a manuscript, after you’ve completed all developmental and substantive editing.

To get even more specific, in the case of preparing a book manuscript for publishing, copyediting precedes the very last stage: proofreading.

Here are two images that illustrate how I might handle the differences in the case of an article:

Proofreading Sample

Copyediting Sample

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