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Why Are There Different Types of Editing?

My last three posts have explained the differences between the three types of editing: content editing, copy editing, and proofreading. In these posts, I stressed the fact that each type of editing should be completed separately. But why is that? And why are they completed in such a particular order?

The main reason each level of editing ought to be completed separately is so the editor’s efforts are focused.

Another important reason for each stage of editing to be completed separately is to prevent double-ups from occurring. For example, if an editor completes copy editing before or alongside content editing, they’ll likely have to redo the task anyway. Content editing includes rewriting, rearranging, adding, and omitting text, which means if that text was copy edited already, all that hard work will be undone.

The separation of these tasks also means that an editor can focus on a specific set of elements without getting sidetracked. Editing structure and content takes a lot longer if the editor stops to think about every comma and dash along the way. Keeping the stages of editing separate makes it easier to do each job thoroughly, because the editor isn’t trying to do too many things at once.

Another reason the three stages happen in this order is that, once a piece of work has been put in the design file, making changes like adding or removing words creates a lot more work for the designer than you might think. Keeping the stages separate ensures that each level of editing is completed thoroughly, without distraction, to minimise having to redo tedious work.

Types of Editing: Proofreading

ProofreadingIn my last two posts, I talked about content editing and copy editing. Today, I’ll explain what happens in the final stage of editing: proofreading.

In most cases, this stage of editing comes after the designer has placed the work into a design file and completed the typesetting and formatting. If the text is being published on a blog or forum—like this post—proofreading can be done in ‘Preview’ mode, prior to posting. For print publications, the proofreader should print out a proof copy.

Once text is in a design file, it becomes a lot harder to make substantial changes. Major changes at this stage could alter the page count or require a rework of the layout to make it fit, which can be time-consuming. Therefore, things that ought to have been addressed during content editing should not be addressed during proofreading. So what does an editor do when proofreading?

The aim of proofreading is to ensure legibility, resolve page layout issues, and check that design choices are appropriate. Proofreading also checks that the instructions in a design brief have been followed. For example, the brief might instruct that new paragraphs are to be shown by leaving a blank line, text is to be aligned left and justified, and for page numbers to appear in the top left header of each page in hot pink 8pt Century Gothic font. Proofreading checks that all of these instructions have been followed and consistently adhered to.

Another important part of proofreading is cross-checking the proof with the copy edited version to ensure formatting—such as bold and italics—hasn’t been lost and to make sure no text has gone missing. This is also the absolute last chance to catch sneaky typos that might have been overlooked during copy editing.

Attention to detail is vital because this is the final stage of editing before the text is published or printed. The author is usually not involved in this stage of editing. An editor will usually send a list of proofreading notes to the designer (or person in charge of the design file) to apply. Proofreading should happen several times over for best results.

Types of Editing: Copy Editing

Copy EditingIn my previous post, I talked about the first stage of editing which focuses on improving the overall structure and content of written work. Today, let me tell you about copy editing.

This stage focuses on editing at the sentence-level, eradicating errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage. An editor will also correct issues in sentence structure and address consistency issues such as tense and spelling conventions.

Editors should have certain tools at their disposal during this stage, such a style sheet and a spelling sheet, where they can easily record words and names with unique or variable spelling and other stylistic preferences. Of course, they should also have a dictionary (or online subscription to one) handy, and a thesaurus never goes astray. Depending on the type of writing, an editor might also need a referencing guide or a specialised dictionary for a specific subject.

The author is usually not involved in this stage of editing unless the editor requires clarification.

It’s important to note that when the work is being edited for publication, copy editing is the last chance to ensure everything is correct before it goes to the designer. Once the writing has been placed into a design file, it becomes harder to make changes. In other words, copy editing must be completed thoroughly to avoid potential problems later on.

Types of Editing: Content Editing

Content Editing_InfographicMany people think of editing as correcting spelling and grammar, but these tasks barely scrape the surface of what editing encompasses.

Over my next three posts, I will outline the main types of editing. Today, let me tell you about content editing.

Content editing—also referred to as structural editing—is the first stage of editing your work should undergo. This is when an editor works closest with an author to improve the overall content and structure of a piece of writing. An easy way to work out what happens at this stage is to consider the name; this level of editing focuses on the content and the structure of the writing.

Put simply, the aim is to strengthen arguments, develop the style and voice, and make sure the work flows logically. For creative pieces, this includes improving characterisation, writing dialogue, and checking for plotholes. For technical writing, it includes keeping the tone professional.

An editor provides constructive feedback to help guide the author in making changes. This process often includes rewriting and rearranging, adding to the manuscript, and removing unnecessary sections.

An editor will also be on the lookout for potential ethical and legal issues at this early stage. If any red flags pop up, an editor will help the author navigate the problem.

The focus on major changes during this stage is crucial. Correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation is secondary until content/structural editing is over; they will be covered in the next stage.