Ugh! What type of editing do I need? Do I even need it?
Updated: May 2
Congratulations – you’ve completed your manuscript, short story, dissertation, web content, or academic paper. You’ve sat back in your chair and sighed with relief. I know that feeling, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? But then you wonder what to do next.
How do you know that what you have written is any good? Whether your plot is tight, your academic argument clear to the reader, or your blog error-free?
Not even the most successful writers or editors can release their words into the world without them being edited on some level.
Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.(Patricia Fuller)
Despite there being a few people some of us would like to see do this, it’s generally not a good look – neither is releasing your unedited words to the public.
If you are here reading this, you are already thinking about editing, and the question you are probably asking is what kind of editing does your work need? It can be confusing; there are terms and processes you might not be familiar with.
When I first trained to be a copyeditor and proofreader, they confused me too. This blog sets out to clarify the different types of editing, and when and where they are needed.
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.(Stephen King)
Developmental or structural editing shapes your work. Here, decisions will be made that affect the foundations of what you have written.
For a novel, these decisions shape the journey of your reader. Developmental editing examines things such as:
For academic writing, decisions are made on whether your theories and arguments make sense; whether everything pulls together coherently. Does what you have written convey exactly what you intended? Developmental editing for academic papers or books examines such things as:
Clarification of the audience
Everything we write tells a story. By the end of the story, even academic ones, the reader wants to be informed by the words you shared with them. Those words need to leave the reader satisfied that they have learnt what they set out to learn. We all read to learn, even when it is pleasure.
Developmental editing means your work undergoes a thorough, substantial, and structural edit.
It tests and revises your work.
When is it needed?
A developmental edit usually occurs early in the writing process, while you are still in the drafting stage. Once you have written and rewritten your work a few times, it is ready for a developmental edit.
Line editing is a more concentrated structural edit.
It focuses on the finer aspects of language by examining the flow of ideas, the transition elements, its tone, and style.
The aim of the line editor is to recommend changes that make your sentences sharper and stronger. It seeks to remove the redundant and repetitive, concentrating on things such as awkward sentences and clunky paragraph construction.
When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. Enrique Jardiel Poncela
Line editing focuses on:
Where developmental editing shapes your work, line editing smooths it over. We can't just throw plaster onto a wall and expect it to smooth itself.
Line editing creates a pathway for the reader to immerse themselves in your world of words, allowing them to absorb each one in a subconsciously fluid way.
A sentence should only say what you need it to say – no more, no less.
When is it needed?
Line editing should come in the early stages of the writing process. Not every piece of work will need it, but most do.
Copyediting is a word-by-word edit that addresses grammar, usage, and consistency issues.
It removes any distraction.
The reader can glide into your words without being thrown back from the experience by clunky obstacles.
Copyeditors check the nuts and bolts of your work for errors such as:
Language choices and styles
Treatment of dialogue
They make hundreds of significant (but often hidden) decisions that keep your reader smoothly journeying through your words.
When is it needed?
Many writers think they are ready to instruct a copyeditor after their first draft, but nobody, not even bestselling authors, can get everything right on the first go. Copyediting should only be done once you are completely satisfied with your plot, characterisation, the story’s arc, etc.
This is it. You have done everything you can do, and you have one more line of defence before your work is ready to be submitted for publication.
Despite your work going through the publication process, it is inevitable there will be sneaky errors slipping through. Humans are at work, and none of us are infallible.
Proofreading is about quality and a proofreader hunts down these loitering snags.
When is it needed?
Proofreading comes at the end of the publication process. It’s the ultimate check before your work goes live.
Baking the Editing Cake
There’s a reason each stage in the process happens when it does. It’s like baking a cake. You can’t whisk the flour unless you’ve added the eggs or milk. Well, you could, but you’d end up with flour all over your face. You can’t bake a cake unless you put it in the oven, and although you could serve it without the embellishment of icing, it wouldn’t look as perfect or as appetising.
If you tried to mix the baking process up even just a little – took a risk and missed out a step – things wouldn’t quite go to plan.
The editing process is the same. Miss a step, and it could not only cost more money, but it could lead to a potentially excellent piece of work never being published.
No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. J. Russell Lynes
If you'd like to get in touch to learn more about my proofreading and copyediting services, please use the contact form, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Julie Pinborough | Proofreader & Copyeditor