≡ Menu

The Four Types of Editing

editing pencilEditing is one of those freelance writing terms that has a whole bunch of meanings. The problem is freelance writers, editors and others in the general field of publishing need to be able to talk about different kinds of editing. It’s not all the same.

In general, of course, when you edit you’re taking a piece of writing and (hopefully) making it better. With that in mind here are the kinds of editing – recognizing that mileage will vary and other people will have different answers. Remember most editing, like writing is far from an exact science which means a variety of definitions for the multitude of terms is not surprising.

Copyediting or copy editing – both spellings are correct. This is usually the final editing a manuscript goes through before its published. It requires someone who has patience, a great eye for detail and an thorough understanding of both the rules of grammar and of common usage, plus a good sense of when to use them. Also called line editing. Not so by the way, the term publishing used to refer to print; now it includes print and extends to the huge variety of way written things show up online.

Proofreading – similar to copyediting. The term comes from the idea of ‘proving’ or correcting a manuscript. Normally associated more with shorter manuscripts. Also refers to proofreader’s marks recognized by most print publishers. Proofreading marks are not used as much today because so much editing happens on the computer without paper.

Rewrite, substantive,  or substantial editing – I’m not sure why we call rewriting editing, except it has to do with fixing an existing manuscript. Rewriting is just that and it can be as difficult or even more challenging than starting from scratch. Like copyediting, rewriting is a specialized skill. Often good re-writers are not good copyeditors and vice versa – the skills are distinct.

Developmental editing – here the editor works with the client right from the beginning, helping the author develop the concept from start to finish. Usually associated with books and screenwriting but certainly not limited to those.

You may see variations on these terms, but generally even those will fall somewhere within these definitions.

Pricing editing

The pricing on each of these kinds of editing is different. And each requires a different skill set and take various amounts of time. As a writer you may be asked to edit. If you take this on be sure you know what type of editing is expected. Most people, even those who hire writers often, really don’t understand the difference.

And, of course, if like me, you hire editors, again you need to be clear on what you want or what your client needs.

What’s your understanding of the types of editing?

Write well and often,




Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • In Ohio

    Sorry… but also what would be the rate difference (or average hours difference) between proof-reading and substantive editing?

    • Let me turn this around a bit. What do you think would take you the most time? Again, as I say often, I prefer flat fees based on a single hourly – so you don’t get penalized as you get better. So if today you charge $50 an hour and it takes you an hour and a half you make $75… as you get better however, you either need to raise your rates so you still make $75 for what now takes you only an hour.

      And I can’t tell you how fast you’ll be at either proofing or substantive editing… some of these things you simply have to figure out yourself.

  • In Ohio

    What are reasonble rates for editing? One book that I’d be hiring for is a soft-science, non-fiction. The other is a fiction book. Are rates usually quoted as $/word count or something else?

    • I”m going to suggest that you read the series here on setting fees. https://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/setting-fees/ There’s really know way to say what you should be charging. Writer’s Market probably has some info in this, but I’ll bet the range is pretty wide… doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look, but don’t expect an exact answer because there isn’t one. (https://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/writers-market-your-must-have-marketing-tool/)

      • Kimber

        I hope you realize you’ve made a grammatical error in your second sentence. You stated, “There’s really know way to say what you should be charging.” It should be, “There’s really no …………” You used “know” when it should have been “no”. Please let me know if you’d like to hire me as an editor or proofreader of your works.

  • I think the most important difference between copy editing and proofreading is that proofreading is more like preparing it as a final copy, while copy editing is all about checking the “copy”, in other words, the language!

  • In response to annew, yes, you’re right–proofreading takes less time than copy editing, which along with the greater number of changes often includes creating an extensive style sheet documenting the various choices the editor has made regarding spelling, hyphenation, formatting, etc.; this then serves as a guide to the proofreader (who at publishing companies is often a different person) so as to maintain consistency. As a freelance editor, when a client asks for proofreading, I always ask whether the manuscript has already been professionally edited . Unless it has been, I charge a copy editing rate that includes a final proofing by me after the author has responded to any questions I have and made any changes.

    • Good Brooke, that means you won’t get penalized because you’re good. Incidentally, I find most of my clients have no idea what a style sheet is… when I’m ghostwriting a book I actually set up the beginning of one – type face, heading styles – so the manuscript I give them is consistent.

  • The differences are great when you’re working with editors, I will say. I had an opportunity to put together two issues of our magazine together in one month – solo. I called on my colleagues from the sister pub up the hall. If I’d handed them all the same document, I would have received five completely different results. Amazing to see these different editing styles in real time!

    What concerns me is when clients hire for “proofreading” and expect extensive edits. Too often they confuse what’s to be a lighter, cursory fix with a full-scale revision and rewrite. Because I charge much less for proofing than I do for editing, this is something I try to iron out at the outset (in the contract).

    • Why do you charge less for proofing? Suspect it takes you less time to proof than to do the extensive edits so the cost to the customer would be less and you’d still be earning your hourly rate.

      And yes, clients have no idea about the difference in types of editing. Unfortunately, neither do many writers, particularly those new to the game. Hence the article, which could be shown to clients too come to think about it.

  • I guess mine is one of those “different answers.” I just wanted to say that copy editing itself has levels. Light editing is generally spelling and mechanics, medium editing also looks at sentence structure in order to add parallelism and remove passive voice if necessary, and heavy editing looks at the overall flow of the piece in addition to other editing tasks. I’m simplifying here, but that’s the gist of the task division.
    Although I wouldn’t suggest anyone hire an editor after a first draft, we can be valuable once the author reaches a point where they feel that there is more to be done but they can’t “see” it. The process of interaction with the editor can be as valuable as the editing itself.

    • Ah, yes, I suppose it does have different levels. And I love good editors… they make me look good. You bet it’s valuable.

    • I would agree with Kate here. Nonetheless, I believe proofreading is a much harder job, if you are including copy editing in that.

      • Interesting. But I”m not either so I really wouldn’t know.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Translate »