What exactly is “editing”? It’s common for someone to ask for a “proofread” when their content actually needs significant revisions. And occasionally, when someone hears that you’re an editor, their eyes light up and they ask if you can get their book of poems published.

If you search the internet, you’ll find many—often conflicting—definitions of editing. I’ll explain two types here: substantive editing and copyediting.

Substantive Editing

Also known as line editing, structural editing, or content editing, substantive editing is more about writing craft than fixing errors.  Substantive editing reworks the text to improve flow. It address word choices and sentence/paragraph structure. It requires judgment, experience, and an understanding of what makes good writing, in addition to a firm grasp of the English language. With writing in my background, substantive editing is my favorite type of editing!


Copyediting is a more technical process than line editing. Wikipedia defines it as “the process of reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.” A copyeditor refers to a style guide (such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the Associated Press Stylebook, or others, depending on the content) and often creates a style sheet that explains how style rules apply to your specific content. A copyedit is typically the last edit before content is typeset.

The New York Book Editors website contains a wonderful comparison of substantive editing and copyediting, including examples. They sum it up nicely: “While your [substantive] editor will probably not have the Chicago Manual of Style committed to memory, your copyeditor might.”

The Bigger Picture

Even though there are many gray areas among editing definitions, one thing is certain: a developmental edit (big picture edit) should come before a substantive edit, which heralds a copyedit, which precedes a proofread. Wheelhouse Editorial provides project management and fact checking services; we do not provide developmental editing at this time, although we do share insights into the bigger picture of a manuscript as they arise. For large projects that require more hands on deck, I can assemble a team of editors, proofreaders, and/or fact checkers to assure that the quality of work meets high standards.

What type of editing does your project need? Contact me and we can sort it out.