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Kinds of editors and levels of edit--what every writer should know (updated)

March 17, 2017

Tags: editors, editing, levels of edit, line editing, copyediting, beta reader

If you want to hire (or be) an editor, it is important to know the difference between what different kinds of editors do. There are developmental or substantive editors, assignment editors, story editors, production editors, photo editors, line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, among other specialties? Read up on the different functions in these stories (linked to below), so you know what to ask for and what to expect. These articles are sorted roughly by category; Updated 8-5-16, 2-8-16. Original post 7-22-13) Freelance editing

What editors do: levels and types of editing
Fiction editing
Copyediting
Proofreading
Newspaper editing
Technical and academic editing
Freelance editing
The editor-author relationship
Whether editors are valued and valuable
Becoming an editor
Editing a website


What editors do: levels and types of editing

What Editors Do (pdf, Lynette Smith's useful chart, San Diego Professional Editors Network)
4 Levels of Editing Explained: Which Service Does Your Book Need? (Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas, on The Book Designer, 4-23-14). Need to hire an editor? Read this excellent explanation of processes involved in (1) The Big-Picture Edit (developmental, structural or substantive editing), (2) Paragraph-Level Edit (stylistic or line editing), (3) Sentence-Level Edit (copyediting), and (4) Word-Level Edit (proofreading).
Editorial skills, categorized and defined (Editors Association of Canada on developmental/project editing; substantive or structural editing; stylistic editing, rewriting, copy editing, picture research, fact checking/reference checking, indexing, mark-up/coding, proofreading, mock-up (rough paste-up), and production editing
The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy? (Rich Adin, An American Editor, 9-24-12)
What Type of Editing Do I Need? (Northwest Independent Editors Guild), difference between developmental editing, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading.
Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor (Rich Adin, An American Editor, 1-13-10). A good explanation of the differences between developmental editors (editing for structure, clarity, and the big picture) and copyeditors (the "rules-based" editor)
Definitions of editorial skills (EAC descriptions of tasks of developmental/project editing; substantive or structural editing; stylistic editing; rewriting; copyediting; picture research; fact checking/reference checking; indexing; mark-up/coding; proofreading; mock-up (rough paste-up); production editing.
Editing v. Editing v. Editing (ghostwriter Claudia Suzanne's helpful distinctions between substantive, line, and copy editing, which vary for fiction and nonfiction)
Editing Titles vs. Editing Duties, Part 1 (Copyediting, 8-6-16) "In this two-part series, we’ll climb down the editing ladder, from the job that takes a bird’s-eye view to the one that concerns itself with individual letters on a page (or screen)." Part 1: Developmental Editing, Line Editing. Part 2: (Proofreading, Fact Checking.
Adapting Your Copyediting Skills to Proofreading Tasks (Copyediting, 4-2-13)
Copy editing (Wikipedia) explains some differences between U.S. and British terminology--for example, "copy editor" is used in British book publishing but the same task in newspaper and magazine publishing is done by a sub editor (or subeditor).
What do subeditors do? (Charlotte Baxter, The Guardian, 7-26-12). Subs try to make articles readable, accurate and widely read--writing headlines that, in a newspaper, can be "lyrical, imaginative, off the wall," but online a standalone headline must make it clear what the article is about or readers and search engines won't find it.
EDITS, EDITORS, EDITING—The Secret Weapon of Every Successful Writer (Ruth Harris, Anne R. Allen's blog, 7-27-14). Advice for fiction writers, including items such as "Review your dialogue tags. They can often be pruned or even deleted."
Editing: What? (Delores Farmer and Sherry Southard on levels of editing)
Levels of Edit (San Diego Professional Editors Network)
Unraveling the Mysteries of the Editing Process (Erin Brenner, The Writing Resource)
Developmental Editing (Kristie Hein, Pictures & Words). "Developmental editing helps establish the best overall structure and organization for a writing project at an early stage. The developmental stage is especially critical with a collection of short pieces, or with multiple authors. ....When Ten Speed tapped me to develop, rewrite, research, and contribute writing to the new edition ... I plunged into the project: poring over the first edition, flagging older stories for follow-up, then seeking out the latest information. I sorted through the author's thick folders of clippings, anecdotes, and readers' responses, assigning each to an appropriate topical chapter."
Why photo shoots need editors too (Julia Sandford-Cooke, SfEP, 1-13-15), Excellent overview of a position that gets you out of the office!
Editors: Scourge of the Earth or Cheap Psychotherapists? (Rebecca Rosenblum, The Afterword, National Post, 12-6-11). An excellent explanation and appreciation of the differences between substantive or developmental editors, line editors, copy-editors, and proofreaders -- as distinct from acquisition editors and production editors.
How to Brief an Editor (Institute of Professional Editors Limited, Australia). Be clear about what you want an editor to do before you engage them. What level of editing do you require?
Setting Editing Expectations (Erin Brenner, Copyediting 4-3-12). A checklist of possible tasks for a report manuscript; if the budget is tight, ask client to use this to specify which items are a priority -- create a triage list. The sample list of tasks to be done is help to show clients who think all that's required is a quick spell-check.
What a permissions editor does (Julie Cancio Harper, Permissions Trackers, on Publishing Careers 1-31-08)
Your Copy Sucks: You Don't Even Know What "Edit" Means (TJ Dietderich, PRBreakfastClub)
So what does a proof-reader/copy-editor/transcriber/copy-writer actually do? (A day in the month of Liz Broomfield, Libro Editing Services, 2-9-11)
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Fiction editing


Editors Roundtable: Introducing Nancy Wick and Julie Van Pelt (Kyra Freestar interviews two developmental editors of fiction, on The Editor's POV (a forum for freelance editors of fiction and creative nonfiction)
Why Copy Editors Are Necessary: A Small Treatise on the Publishing World (Nancy Hanger, Windhaven Press, on why copyeditors are necessary for fiction)
Duties of an Editor & How Editors Help Writers (Fiction editor Beth Hill, on The Editor's Blog, who also wrote What Should an Editor Do for a Writer?
What Editors Do and What Editing Can't Buy (Writer Beware, SFWA)
What's the Difference Between Developmental Editing, Content Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading? (Stacey Aaronson, The Self-Publishing Scoop, 3-3-14)
Writers: Get The Right Kind Of Feedback! (Molly Greene on what to look for in an editor or beta reader, at various stages -- development, redevelopment, consolidation). Excellent advice from writers' viewpoint.
What is a beta reader and why do I need one? (Belinda Pollard, Small Blue Dog) and How to find a beta reader.
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Copyediting


A copyeditor's commandments (Erin Brenner, Copyediting Tip of the Week, 2-1-12)
Copyediting: A Duty of Care (Corporate Writing Pro, 12-7-11). An excellent list of the things a good copyeditor does, well-phrased, including, "Revising sentences to bring subjects and verbs closer together," "Moving subjects to the front of the sentence," and "Discovering hidden verbs, otherwise known as nominalizations."
What It's Really Like To Be A Copy Editor Lori Fradkin, The AWL, 7-21-10)
The Business of Editing: A Rose By Another Name Is Still Copyediting (An American Editor, 6-27-12, writes about the trend for publishers to outsource copy editing offshore for very low fees, getting poorly edited work back, and hiring American editors to "proofread" PDFs, by which they mean copy edit the poorly edited copy at proofreaders' rates.
In Praise of Copy Editors (And Why We Need More) (Reid Norman, Communications Strategy 4-26-12)
The Hidden Costs of Copyediting (Erin Brenner, Copyediting, 3-6-12). For publishers who think copyediting is too big an expense and should be cut.
Why Editing Matters (American Copy Editors Society, or ACES, which invites your comments)
The things editors do (John D. McIntyre, You Don't Say 2-15-12) Take this sentence: Please welcome the Hart’s into our Diocesan family.
What It Takes to Be a Medical Writer (Susan E. Caldwell, on her helpful biotech ink spots blog). Subscribe free to The Biotech Ink Insider for job info, archived articles.
Finding a good medical writer or editor (PDF, Melanie Moore, American Academy of Periodontology, 2006). See chart showing difference between basic, moderate, and comprehensive tasks for proofing and various forms of editing)
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Proofreading


The Difference Between Copyediting and Proofreading (Mark Nichol, Daily Writing Tips, 4-2-11)
Is Freelance Proofreading the Job for You? (Kate Rosengarten, KateProof, 8-1-12)
Untangling Proofreading (Louise Harnby, An American Editor, 2-8-16). How one defines proofreading isn’t determined by what one actually does, but rather by whom one talks to. Outside of book publishing, it often sounds more like editing (but if calling yourself a proofreader is how they discover you, so be it). Don't assume you and a potential client have the same expectations.

Newspaper editing


What exactly does a newspaper copy editor do? (Bill Walsh, The Slot, on "The Lot of Journalism's Noble Misfits." Check his other entries, too, including How a Copy Desk Works, How Can I Become a Copy Editor? , and What's a slot man?
An Evolving Model for Editing (Deborah Howell, Ombudsman, WaPo, on the changing role of the editor as newspaper staffs are cut)
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Technical and academic editing

What is substantive editing? Steven L. Kanter, MD, editor of Academic Medicine, interviews Albert Bradford, director of staff editing (YouTube video). Bradford explains that far beyond "comma chasing," structural editing is working collegially (not correctively) with an author with something substantive to say to carve away the bad stuff (like Michelangelo carving sculpture) to reveal the "David," to be sure the substance (theme, idea, argument) is clearly and compellingly enough stated that even someone not in that field would find it of interest, and the author will feel grateful for having a better piece.
The role of the editor in the technical writing team (Jean Hollis Weber's excellent outline of what editors do, types of edit, and interactions with the writing team)
Clarity for Editing (Justin Baker suggests clearer names for levels of edit, STC Technical Editing Sig 4-20-07)
Revision notes (Gavin Armstrong, The SkepticalChymist, a blog from Nature Chemistry, 12-1-10) "Revising a manuscript in response to the comments of referees should not be about doing the bare minimum to get a paper published. Addressing criticisms that are genuine and constructive can lead to much more compelling research articles."
The Levels of Edit (PDF, Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler, 2nd edition, Society for Technical Communication,
Developing New Levels of Edit (Judyth Prono, Martha DeLanoy, Robert Deupree, Jeffrey Skiby, and Brian Thompson, STC, revising levels of edit for technical editing, as originally spelled out by Van Buren and Buehler), not online as of 11-2-14 -- let me know if it goes online again)
ELSS Editing Requirements (Rick Weisburd on what's required for scientific editing and translation from Japanese, at one serious firm)
What It Takes to Be a Medical Writer (Susan E. Caldwell, on her helpful biotech ink spots blog). Subscribe free to The Biotech Ink Insider for job info, archived articles.
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Freelance editing


How (Freelance) Editors Operate (San Diego Professional Editors Network)
7 Common Myths About Hiring a Freelance Editor for Your Book by Nancy Peske. Explains the various basic kinds of editing.
Why Children’s Publishing Needs Freelance Editors Now (Emma D. Dryden, Publishing Perspectives, 6-20-12)
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The editor-author relationship


Lives and Letters, an interview with Robert Gottlieb. This Salon.com interview with the legendary editor is ostensibly about writing but gives helpful insights into the editing process (and the writer-editor relationship) inside a good publishing house.
Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do, a book that explains the publishing process and the special skills needed for particular areas, such as mass market and romance, edited by Gerald Gross
Classifying editorial tasks (Jean Weber, Technical Editors' Eyrie). When rules-based and analysis-based edits ovelap, which editorial decisions are negotiable with the writer, and which are not?
What is substantive editing (Jean Weber, Technical Editors' Eyrie: Resources for technical editors). See also Classifying editorial tasks
Stop Editing Me (Scott Norton on the editor's natural bent)
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Whether editors are valued and valuable


eLife: Can a Top-Tier Journal Run Without Professional Help? (Phil Davis, Scholarly Kitchen, 12-1-11). Davis predicts that a scientific journal with no professional editors will soon face the same problems PLos Biology and PLos Medicine did.
Black day for the blue pencil (Blake Morrison, Guardian, 8-5-05, argues that editors are an endangered in British publishing)
Showcasing the Work Editors Do (Bay Area Editors' Forum), links to many useful articles.
Why you need a professional editor (Dave Bricker, 8-17-12, good advice for writers who are self-publishing)
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Becoming an editor


So You Want to Be an Editor: Information about a Career in Editing (in one page, the Editors' Association of Canada provides a great overview of what being an editor involves and requires)
Becoming an Editor (from the blog, This Crazy Industry)
How to Become a Developmental Editor (Scott Norton)
What Do Hiring Managers Want? (Gail Saari's notes on a BAEF panel in 2003 featuring Lasell Whipple, managing editor at Jossey-Bass; Joy Ma, former managing editor for PC Games magazine, currently with Key3Media; Lorena Jones, managing editor at Ten Speed Press; and Walter Keefe, of Synergy Personnel Services, Inc.)
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Editing a website


Creating and Editing Websites (David Baumgold's tutorial for beginners)
Editing a Website: Extending the Levels of Edit (Steve Anderson, Chuck Campbell, Nancy Hindle, Jonathan Price, and Randall Scasny). This article describes lessons learned by an editing class at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology when they attempted to edit a website created by others. Far from being the simple text-editing project the students expected, their venture turned into a major overhaul of the site, dealing with screen design, coding, interface issues, and interactivity. The Levels of Edit concept, familiar to most editors, provided a framework to help the class organize the work. See also Resources for editors and writers of websites (Technical Editors’ Eyrie), for technical editors.
Basic HTML Web Page Structure
(Ironspinder.com)
Editing an existing remote website in Dreamweaver (Adobe Dreamweaver Team blog 9-6-11)
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Have I overlooked anything important? If so, please comment below.
Original post July 22, 2013. Updated Sept. 9, 2013, Aug. 7, 2014, March 17, 2017.

Comments

  1. August 19, 2012 10:06 AM EDT
    This is particularly good advice for writers who are self-publishing: Why You Need a Professional Editor (Dave Bricker, 8-17-12)
    - PM
  2. September 23, 2014 4:01 AM EDT
    This is is a compelling list. An author might also wants to join a critique group and have feedback on his work while giving feedback to others.
    - Don Harold
  3. November 2, 2014 9:04 AM EST
    Oh wow! Great list, Pat. Here's more. What do editors do? Categories of editorial tasks This list of categories of editing is up-to-date as of April 19, 2014. If you have corrections, additions, or other comments, I ask that you reply here. Major and minor editorial revisions could be described in terms of tasks required, and could be summarized from the following list of editorial service levels as described in the sources below. For example, a light copyediting (spelling, grammar, and punctuation) might be minor revisions because although knowing style conventions is necessary, consulting with the author is not necessary. ___________________________________________________________ Jean Weber's website What is substantive editing? What is substantive editing? (www.jeanweber.com/newsite/?page_id=28) [COMMENT: source of the observation that copyediting is rule-based and substantive editing is analysis-based, taking negotiation between author and editor.] ___________________________________________________________ Teaming Up With a Medical Writer: Tips for Finding Well-Qualified Candidates (PDF, Melanie Moore, 2006) Table 1. Common editorial service levels in manuscript development. [COMMENT: Excellent and concise. I infer that the levels vary depending on the initial starting material. A well-written draft might need only a light copyedit, whereas incomprehensible starting material might need a total rewrite. I understand that a total rewrite is called "page 1 job" in Hollywood, when a screenplay needs a total rewrite from page 1.] ___________________________________________________________ What do editors do? Definitions of Editorial Services (Bay Area Editors' Forum)_____________________________________________________________ KOK Edit: Katharine O'Moore-Klopf's website, Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base [COMMENT: Awesome in comprehensiveness.]_____________________________________________________________ Professional Editorial Standards (2009) (Editors' Association of Canada) and Definitions of editorial skills ___________________________________________________________ Services Helen Glenn Court, freelance copyeditor [COMMENT: Brief definitions of editorial skills.] ___________________________________________________________ Your Copy Sucks: You Don’t Even Know What “Edit" Means (PR Breakfast Club blog entry, October 21, 2009) [COMMENT: The article distinguishes among “editing-editing”, copyediting, and proofreading. (Aside: I dislike the use of the word “suck” as in this instance because of the word’s allusion to sexual slang.)]___________________________________________________________ Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor Freelance Editorial Services (Rich Adin, An American Editor, 1-13-10) [COMMENT: Provides an interesting discussion of differences between developmental (sometimes known as substantive or comprehensive) editing and copyediting (rule based).] ___________________________________________________________ The Levels of Edit (2nd ed., Robert Van Buren and Mary Fran Buehler, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, January 1980 [COMMENT: Identifies five levels of technical editing (Levels 1 through 5) in which level 1 includes all 9 of the 9 types of edit (coordination; policy; integrity; screening; copy clarification; format; mechanical style; language; and substantive), and level 5 has only 2 (coordination and policy). The 9 types of edit are well explained. However, I would have found the booklet to have been much more useful if it had provided a sample in which a draft went sequentially through the 5 different levels of edit.] ___________________________________________________________ Levels of Technical Editing CSE's GuideLine Series (David E. Nadziejka, Published by the Council of Science Editors, 2000) Out of print. [COMMENT: The article discusses levels of editing with the same starting manuscript. Unfortunately, however, the article does not provide fixed starting material and then show how the outcome of editing at various levels. Even though the booklet is out-of-print, I provided it as another example in which different levels of editing are explained but an example is not provided.]
    - Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS
  4. November 25, 2014 12:19 PM EST
    THANKS so much, Michael, especially for the comments. The comments template on this Sitebuilder site does not (so far as I can figure out) allow me to display your proper separation of paragraphs in a more natural way!
    -- Pat
    - Pat McNees
  5. November 19, 2016 10:40 AM EST
    In “Copy Editor” vs “Manuscript Editor” vs . . .: Venturing onto the Minefield of Titles (Cheryl Iverson, Council of Science Editors, March-April 2004), Iverson argues that "manuscript editor" is a better term for editors working directly with authors, by contrast with copy editors working directly for the publisher. An interesting discussion of the arguments about which titles are more apt and meaningful (and prestigious enough to get an author's respect). Some argue that editors who work directly with authors are "author's editors" or "manuscript editors." Those who work for publisher, write headlines, etc., are "copy editors." An interesting read: http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/wp-content/uploads/v27n2p039-041.pdf
    - PM