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The Five Fundamental Types of Editing and Which One Is Right for You

So, the hard part is over—you've written a manuscript or paper and you're now ready to move forward on the next step, which is working with an editor toward getting it published.

However, a quick online search of the scope of editors and editing services offered is enough to overwhelm even the calmest of writers. Looking through freelance profiles or online agencies, you'll come across various terms for services provided, including developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and manuscript critiquing.

Which do you choose? How is one different than the other? Do you need a copyeditor and a line editor, or will one suffice? You likely have a lot of questions about the scope of editing services available, so in this article, we will break it down for you to help clear up any confusion you might have. We'll discuss what each type of editing service is to help you narrow your search, specifically what professional skills are needed to perform that service, and at what stages in the writing process you might need each.

Developmental editing

Think of a developmental editor as your mentor and guide for a particular manuscript. In the publishing industry, a developmental editor would assist authors from the early stages of the manuscript submission process, before a line editor, copyeditor, or proofreader even sees a word that's written.

In publishing houses, the developmental editor is sometimes simply known as the editor-in-chief or associate editor. Many published books will go through a round of developmental editing (where significant parts of the manuscript are changed) and in some cases, a writer might work with a developmental editor at the planning stages of a manuscript that is yet to be written.

A developmental editor would focus on issues, such as:

  • The structure of your book
  • Whether your book will be marketable, and if not, how to make it marketable
  • Any gaps in plot or characterization
  • An unclear audience or lack of engagement with audience
  • Major changes that need to be made regarding pacing, dialogue, or plot

When working with a developmental editor, it's important to keep an open mind and receive all feedback graciously. A developmental editor is not there to tear apart your writing (although it might seem like it at times) or make you feel incompetent as an author. He or she is there to help make your book a success and has a birds-eye view of the publishing industry and genre that you won't have in most cases.

Line editing

A line edit will generally occur before a copyedit is done and is meant to address the writing style and overall effectiveness of the content of the work. In other words, it is not the line editor's task to find the grammar, punctuation, spelling or syntax errors of the copy, although he or she might do this to a certain extent.

Mostly, a line editor would be responsible for pointing out any of the following in your writing:

  • Problems with the emotion or tone of your writing
  • Clichés or broad generalizations you've used
  • Problems with your word choice or repetitive wording
  • Redundant or extraneous words
  • Run-on sentences
  • Faulty transitions (or a lack of transitions)
  • Off-topic digressions
  • Dialogue that does not flow well or is hard to follow/read
  • Shifts in tense or point of view
  • Poor word choice, bland writing, or an unengaging tone
  • Details that need to be added for clarification for the reader

As you can see, line editing involves looking at the content to consider its overall effectiveness. For example, a line editor for a doctoral dissertation would look at the big picture and determine the usefulness of the study, how well the author has reviewed the literature related to the topic, and whether enough details are included for a convincing argument. A line editor would also point out if there are any confusing parts that are difficult to read or understand, or if there are any glaring errors in verb tense and word choice throughout.


Copyediting is a type of editing that focuses on the technical issues of the copy. The best equipped copyeditor is one who has excellent command of English language rules, including grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, syntax, citation formats and more. Included in a copyedit should be:

  • Corrections to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. This includes corrections between British and American spellings of words, depending on the audience. For example, a copyeditor would be responsible for changing the punctuation and/or spelling if an author using British English rules publishes in an American publication.
  • Changes to ensure consistency in spelling, punctuation, numerals, fonts, spacing and capitalization. For example, a copyeditor would catch when "five" is spelled out in one section of the work but written as the numeral 5 in another. He or she would then make the necessary adjustments to ensure consistency throughout the entire manuscript or paper.
  • Notes on false or questionable information such as incorrect quotes, dates, or claims. This is especially important in the publishing world, where false information could lead to defamation lawsuits or a loss of reputation for the publication.
  • Notes on the effectiveness or macro-level issues of the copy, including consistency in details of characters, places, etc.
  • A thorough understanding and check of the formatting style required (Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.). A copyeditor should be well-versed in the rules related to the style and be able to correct any formatting, citation or punctuation errors within the copy that don't follow it.
  • Analysis of any legal issues that might result from publication of the work, such as plagiarism or defamation lawsuits.

In the various stages of the editing process, a copyedit would come after a line edit. In publishing circles, a copyeditor is usually the last person to see the copy before it goes to print.


In the stages of editing for publication, proofreading would be what occurs after the publication or manuscript has been printed once to obtain the "proof." After given this proof, a proofreader would examine it to make sure that it includes everything in the original copy and make note of anything that is missing.

A proofreader would then look at the proof to make sure the page numbers are correctly formatted and numbered, as well as ensure there are no incorrectly spaced line breaks or paragraphs. This includes checking to make sure each paragraph is set apart from the rest and that lines do not overlap each other or go off the printed page.

As with other specific types of editing, a proofreader's job might overlap with the copywriter or line editor. However, his or her primary responsibility in the publishing world would be to examine the official proof before the final print run.

Manuscript critiquing and/or book doctoring

Manuscript critiquing or book doctoring is when an editor reads your manuscript and provides a comprehensive assessment of it. Obviously, editors who offer this service should have extensive experience in the industry to provide valuable critique that would greatly increase an author's chance of being published. That critique might include aspects of the manuscript such as:

  • Character development. Have your characters been developed well enough? Does your reader connect with them?
  • Pacing. Is the pacing too fast or too slow? Could improvements be made in pacing to make the story easier to follow or understand?
  • Dialogue. Do your characters have believable dialogue that adds dimension to them? Is the dialogue formatted correctly and is it readable?
  • Potential "holes" in the story or problems with the plot. Are there missing pieces to the puzzle in your plot that might annoy readers if they are left out of the story? Are there leaps of faith in the plot that might not make sense to a large portion of readers?

It's important to know that this type of editing will likely not include line editing or copyediting, unless those are specially offered as part of a package deal. Rather, an editor offering a manuscript critique will use his or her experience in the industry to give you an honest outlook on what your manuscript has to offer and what it is lacking from the point of view of traditional publishing houses and current trends in the industry.

A final word

Just as editing services offered will vary, so will the professional experience of editors. That's why it's important to choose an editor who has extensive experience in the industry or field for which you are writing, and can give informed, quality feedback to help you in your publishing efforts. For example, an editor might have an impressive resume in academic research and publishing but not know much at all about publishing in a magazine. Since the world of academic writing is vastly different than that of magazine writing, an editor specializing in one will not be the best informed concerning trends and expectations in the industry of the other.

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