It’s common for a client to ask for a proofread when the content actually needs significant revisions. And sometimes when someone hears that you’re an editor, their eyes light up and they ask if you can get their book of poems published.
So what exactly is editing? If you search the internet, you’ll find many—often conflicting—definitions of editing. I’ll explain two types here: line editing and copyediting. For content other than book manuscripts, the line between these is often blurry or nonexistent.
Also known as substantive editing, structural editing, or content editing, line editing is more about writing craft than fixing errors. Editors Canada defines it this way: “[Line] editing focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of an entire text, from the title through to the ending. [Line] editors help writers define their goals, identify their readers, and shape the manuscript in the best possible way. They clarify the argument, fix the pacing, suggest improvements, and draw missing pieces from the author.”
Line editing reworks the text to improve flow. It address word choices and sentence/paragraph structure to improve the writing. It requires judgment and an understanding of what makes writing good, in addition to a firm grasp of the English language. I’ll admit that line 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 often the last edit before the content is laid out/typeset.
The New York Book Editors website contains a wonderful comparison of line editing and copyediting, including examples. They sum it up nicely: “In other words, while your general 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) comes before a line edit, which heralds a copyedit, which precedes a proofread. Wheelhouse Editorial also provides project management and fact-checking services; we do not provide developmental editing. 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.