April 21, 2012

Sorting out the levels of editing

By Jennifer
Borton •
Even those of us who edit for a living can have trouble figuring out what it entails. When do you cross the line from copy editing to line editing? It's even harder for the uninitiated to figure out. The lines are a bit blurry, but here’s a rough breakdown.
  • Developmental editors look at the big picture, working with content and structure to ensure the work gives the readers what they need in an easily comprehensible format.
  • Line editors correct grammar, streamline wordy prose, and ensure that what you say is what you meant. They smooth out rough patches and reduce redundancies. They make clunky sentences elegant.
  • Copy editors make sure sentences are grammatical, and if they're not, that there’s a good reason for it. They often check facts and always ensure stylistic consistency.
  • Proofreaders correct spelling errors, misplaced punctuation, and typographical inconsistencies.
Ideally, your manuscript will go through each of these steps before publication. There is some overlap among these roles, though. For example, the last three all include taking care of pesky details like ensuring plural possessives of surnames ending in S are formed correctly.

If you are self-publishing and looking to contain costs, you can combine line editing with either the developmental edit or the copy edit, if you find an editor who is trained in both disciplines. Under no circumstances skip proofreading. And don't try to do it yourself. No one can proofread their own work. Not even those of us who edit for a living.

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