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Types of Editing

One thing Terri and I have learned is to take editing seriously and the difference between the types of editing. I recently put together a module on this topic for a class I’m teaching and thought this might be information to share with others.

DON’T STOP to EDIT while WRITING. A key strategy for writing is to capture all the content before starting any editing. Editing too soon can interrupt the flow of creativity and prevent the draft completion. Avoid moving into fighting the weeds of editing as a source of procrastination, which further prevents the draft completion. Start the editing process only after the content is completely written.

Types of editing labels can be confusing and used interchangeably with subtle difference in meaning from one journal or book publishing company to another. The types of editing can be a maze of terms often overlapping in concepts.

The major piece of advice I can offer is if you are using an external editor for your work,

Make sure you and the editor clarify terms to ensure what the edit includes,

and both of you are using them the same way.

When the author and the editor are not on the same page the results of an edit can represent a costly outcome of time and money. Communicate with editors to clarify the terms used to describe his/her editing processes to ensure that you purchase the type of edit sought. For example, if you were expecting a detailed developmental edit and you received a copy edit instead, that would require the entire edit to be redone. Always make sure both you and the editor are clear on the expected return on investment.

Four Main Editing Categories

The types of editing fit within four main categories.

  1. Manuscript Critique

  2. Developmental Editing

  3. Functional Editing

  4. Proofreading

Attached is a worksheet that compares the four categories in a grid format.

A Manuscript Critique is like a journal peer review of a manuscript. The editor focuses on the content, thematic structure, voice, clarity, consistency, and any weaknesses that are specific to the narrative and prose. The response is generally in the form of an editorial memo, a separate document. The memo begins with a broad overview of the manuscript and its structure and style. The editor proceeds with a detailed review of specific elements and generally will conclude with any specific advice related to selected sections or pages.

The memo may offer suggestions to

  • Refocus the core intentions and goals of the manuscript to better fit the target audience.

  • Examine the narrative voice and strengthen it.

  • Recommend a reordering of the content for better flow.

  • Remove content sections that aren’t essential to your one purpose and one focus for the manuscript.

  • Suggest areas to strengthen content that seems underdeveloped.

  • Advise on any issues with the pacing and

  • Address repetitive weaknesses in the prose.

With this type of critique, just as with a journal manuscript peer review, the editor provides the notes or comments and the adjustments to the manuscript are made by the author, not the editor.

Depending on the editor, this type of editing may not and generally does not involve any corrections to spelling and grammar, no reorganizing or cutting of the content, and no rewriting of awkward passages. Instead, a Manuscript Critique focuses on providing feedback for the author to make the needed, broad structural changes.

Developmental Editing may also be called structural or substantive editing. Developmental editing is the most detailed and intense type of editing. As Saver says, “the editor focuses on the big picture of your work, from the flow and organization to the tone and style of the text.”[1] p22 With this type of editing the editor helps fit your style to that of the targeted journal [or book].1

Think big picture with a developmental edit. Weak links are exposed and questioned, specifically related to order, flow, tone, and consistency compared to what you set out to do. Are there places where content lags and needs attention or expansion of details? Developmental editing is more intense, time-consuming, and costly than a manuscript critique. On rare occasions, this service is offered, for example, to members of a specialty nursing organization that publishes a journal. They offer the service primarily because the editor is seeking an author’s content expertise, even when the individual may not be skilled at organizing their thoughts into a cohesive manuscript.

The entire manuscript is evaluated for problems related to “structure, organization, coherence, and logical consistency” and may or may not be corrected in a track changes type of formatting.[2] “Complete sentences may be removed or added. Paragraphs may be rewritten, condensed or expanded. Blocks of text may be moved from one section to another.”[2] This service can be provided as a detailed editorial note to the author and/or provided as a comprehensive line-by-line editing process such as would be found in Microsoft Word or track changes and comments features.

Different editors focus on a variety of developmental or structural editing options. When purchasing editorial services, make sure both you as author and the editor are clear on the expected outcomes.

Functional Editing

I classify functional editing into three similar, yet slightly different types of reviews including copy editing, line editing, and mechanical editing. Terms in this category can be confusing and may be used interchangeably. Be sure you and the editor agree and have a clear understanding of the type of editing requested.

Copy editing is a light form of editing that applies to polishing the paper at the final stages of publishing. The editor looks at spelling, punctuation, grammar, terminology, jargon, semantics, inappropriate figures of speech, consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization. Copy editing may also address continuity of plot, setting, and character traits in a book. This type of edit does not alter the content of the text. This may or may not include line editing or a more intense look at each sentence’s meaning or fixing mechanical errors. Copy editing is sometimes confused with developmental editing. The copy editor role is entirely different from that of the journal editor role involving different training and experience. It is common that these functions are handled by different editors. Always clarify with your editor what is included in his or her copy edit to be sure of agreement between the two of you.

Line editing is often used interchangeably with the term copy editing. On occasion it may also be incorporated as a part of developmental editing. “However, when line editing is distinguished from copy editing, it refers to a unique edit that falls between copy editing and developmental editing in intensity. In line editing, the editor looks at your work, line by line and analyzes each sentence. The editor considers word choice, and the power, and meaning of a sentence. The editor considers syntax and whether a sentence needs to be trimmed or tightened.”[3] According to the Archway Publishing staff, “line editing helps to make your prose sing.”[3]

Mechanical editing may be incorporated into copy editing or this may be referred to as a separate editing function. It involves the application of a particular style, such as APA, AMA, The Chicago Manual of Style, or Associated Press (AP) style. The editor looks at punctuation, capitalization, spelling, abbreviations, and any other writing style rules.


Generally, Proofreading is the last editing phase prior to publishing. Proofreading includes spelling, grammar, punctuation checking, and correcting typos. Basically, it is an extensive spell check. No substantive content changes are made at this point unless it is an egregious error. This occurs at the layout stage for print publishing and substantive edits should be made well before this point in the process.

Attached is a worksheet that compares the four categories and I hope it is helpful.

Please also share with us how you have used this content within your own work and experiences of editing.

  1. Saver, C. (2017). Anatomy of writing for publication for nurses. (3rd ed.) Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International.

  2. Manuscript Editors Online. (2019). Types of editing. Retrieved from July 26, 2019.

  3. Archway Publishing. (2019). The different types of editing. Retrieved from 26, 2019.


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