Different types of editing

What does editing involve?

Writing a book is hard work! But it is also a major achievement, which any writer should be incredibly proud of. Before your book is published, it’s worth considering enlisting professional editorial help to ensure your book is at its best. Why spend all that time and effort writing a book and not give it that final professional polish? It could be the difference between good and bad reviews. This post discusses the different types of editing to consider.

Running the spellchecker in Word or getting a ‘quick proofread’ by a friend that is good with words is not usually enough to make a book good enough to publish. The friend might pick up some of the errors, but do they understand about consistent style or are they aware of the importance of conscious language?

Any professional editor that is asked for a quick proofread knows that there is no such thing! The process of editing a book follows a logical sequence, and each stage of editing has a different function. Most authors ask for proofreading, when their book really needs line and copyediting. This misunderstanding is no surprise as the jargon used for different types of editing can be confusing, even more so as terminology varies between editors.

The different types of editing

The different types of editing are discussed below in the order they should be carried out.

Developmental editing

When writing a book, an author is completely immersed in their story, so they will know the plot and characters inside out. This means it is easy to overlook a part of the story or miss something crucial to the plot, or maybe not realise a character’s point of view doesn’t work. This is where a developmental editor comes in to ensure that the big-picture elements of the book work as they should and that the story is complete.

Developmental editing, which is also known as structural or substantive editing, looks at the bigger-picture issues that apply to the book as a whole. A developmental editor will typically consider the following points:

  • genre
  • structure
  • the plot has a beginning, middle and end
  • characterisation
  • any point-of-view issues
  • narrative style and tense
  • the pace at which the story develops.

There may be some overlap between developmental and line editing with point-of-view issues, but a developmental editor is unlikely to be concerned with other sentence-level issues, or with spelling and punctuation.

Manuscript critiques

A manuscript critique, also known as a manuscript evaluation or manuscript assessment, is produced by a developmental editor. The critique is a report that outlines the bigger-picture strengths and weaknesses within the manuscript. It also includes suggestions for improvements. No changes are made to the manuscript, and the author can use the report to address the issues themselves.

Line editing

Line editing, which is also known as sentence-level or stylistic editing, examines the text line by line and addresses any issues with sense and flow. The editor will usually amend the text directly in Microsoft Word. Some elements, such as point-of-view drops, may overlap with aspects of developmental editing. Line editing is often carried out at the same time as copyediting, but this varies between editors. Some of the points addressed at this stage include:

  • use and effectiveness of dialogue
  • redundancy and repetition of words or phrases
  • sentence length and structure
  • showing and telling issues
  • point-of-view drops and head-hopping
  • cliché and metaphor use
  • overwriting
  • use of non-inclusive language.

Line critique

Some editors offer line critiques. Instead of amending the text directly, the editor produces a report that uses examples from the book and makes suggestions on how to improve any sentence-level issues. The report will also highlight spelling, grammar and punctuation problems. The author can follow the suggestions and examples and make their own revisions and amendments.


Copyediting takes place once the bigger-picture and sentence-level issues with the manuscript have been dealt with. Copyeditors work directly on the text file using Microsoft Word. The editor will record their style decisions on a style sheet. This includes details of spelling and numbering preferences, hyphenation, capitalisation, timeline of the story and character information. Some of the points addressed in copy editing include:

  • applying Word styles to headings, illustrations and tables
  • ensuring that the tone and style of the text are appropriate for the audience
  • checking for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • applying style decisions consistently (for example, use of ise/ize, capitalisation and hyphens)
  • numbering tables, figures and illustrations and checking content against text and captions
  • ensuring that tables and illustrations have the correct captions and are consecutively numbered and positioned
  • querying obvious factual inaccuracies, including plot holes
  • highlighting potential legal issues (for example, copyright infringement)
  • formatting references and citations using required style (in academic books)
  • marking up index for consistent formatting (if applicable).

It’s worth pointing out that when line and copyediting have been carried out, it will still be necessary to move onto the next stage of editing, which is proofreading. Your book may have had thousands of amendments, both large and small, and no editor can pick up every single error, so there are likely to be some errors remaining.


Proofreading is the last stage of the editing process and can be thought of as quality control. Typesetting software is used to format your manuscript into page proofs that go on to form the completed book. As well as residual errors from the line and copyediting stages, proofreading will pick up issues such as inaccurate spacing and layout, bad word breaks and incorrect page numbers, which can all be introduced at the typesetting stage.

The text is not edited directly, and any errors picked up at proofreading stage will be annotated in a PDF document. This is done using comment and mark-up tools in software such as Adobe Acrobat. Proofreading can also be done in Word, providing the manuscript has been professionally copyedited.

A proofreader will refer to the style sheet created by the copyeditor and will address the following issues:

  • essential errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • any minor changes for sense
  • consistency and positioning of page elements (for example, page numbers and spacing)
  • consistent style decisions (for example, use of ise/ize, capitalisation and use of hyphens)
  • formatting of references and citations (academic and some non-fiction books)

As you can see, editing a book involves so much more than a quick proofread! Not all writers will engage professional editing support at all stages. Some writers are comfortable with self-editing. Others will commission a professional editor to help with the stage of editing they are least confident in. Whatever you decide, your book is a work of art and deserves quality editing before being published.

Work with me

I’m Clare Black, a fiction book editor based in Stockport, UK. I help independent authors prepare for publishing by fixing the important details and improving the readability of their books. I specialise in crime, thriller and contemporary fiction, but I am happy to consider other genres. I am a Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP).

I offer various packages to help indie authors get published and would love the opportunity to discuss your book and how I can help you prepare for publishing.


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