At the end of this module, you will:
Before you roll up your sleeves to dig into the functions and finesse of editing, it is important to understand the different types of editing and the various formats in which editing takes place. Editing is often seen as a catch-all for anything to do with grammar correction. But, in fact, different types of editors perform very disparate tasks. Thus, in this module, you will learn the various roles – and names – of these different editing functions, along with what individuals with the title of “editor” actually do in publications and book publishers. You will learn why developmental editors are very different from copy editors and how neither really fits into the title of commissioning editor! The aim here is to give you a foundational knowledge of the full process of editing so that you can decide for yourself which area sounds like the best career fit for you.
According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of editing written material is to “prepare (it) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.” This is indeed the overall object of editing. Any written matter to be consumed by readers needs to be not only grammatically, factually and typographically error-free but also written in a way that’s easily understood by the target audience. The writing needs to be clear. It must be properly structured or sequenced so that concepts and narrative “flow” well.
Most people self-edit as they write. They fix errors, they change words, they move around paragraphs or delete them if the information isn’t pushing their narrative, i.e. their account, viewpoint or story, forward. They start off writing about one thing which leads them to a new idea they hadn’t considered and they make a note to check the facts behind that new idea, then they keep writing, correcting, deleting and shifting around their sentences as they go. They do this until they get to the end of their article, manuscript or whatever written material they’re working on.
Then the next edit begins. This is the draft edit, and most often – unless it’s a short blog post or something personal or slight – it is in this draft that the professionals are pulled in. Of course, you may be that professional and, if so, this is the moment you switch hats from writer to editor. As Susan Bell puts it in, The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, “For the draft edit, you stop writing, gather a number of pages together, read them, make notes on what works and doesn’t, then rewrite. It is only in the draft edit that you gain a sense of the whole and view your work as a detached professional. It is the draft edit that makes us uneasy, and that arguably matters most.”
There are many different ways that you will edit your draft material. And even after that, particularly if what you are working on is long-form writing such as a book or script, or a professional manual, your manuscript will undergo even more scrutiny to ensure everything from spelling to structure to style is proper and precise.
So how exactly does this happen? How is editing broken up so that an errant comma isn’t missed and chapters are put in the right order? It seems like a huge amount of work and responsibility for one set of eyes, and indeed, for the most part, it is. That’s why different editors are used to look at different parts of a written piece of work.
This section introduces you to the main types of editing needed for writing.
Developmental editing is “big picture” editing. In the past, a lot of developmental editing happened even before a book was written. The author would sit down with the editor and discuss the initial concept, outline and overall structure of the book. That rarely happens nowadays, or if it does, it’s labelled under “book coaching.”
More usually, developmental editing happens after an early draft of the manuscript, and for that reason is sometimes called a “structural edit.” The editor looks deeply at how the work is organised and presented. They examine the content, considering everything from concept, structure, flow, consistency, style, point of view, and – if it’s a fictional piece of writing – character, dialogue, plot and subplots.
Questions are asked:
In short, developmental editing considers all the aspects of a manuscript that make the book readable and enjoyable. Mostly these aspects are offered up as suggestions. Some development editors go so far as to rewrite parts of a manuscript as needed. But in general, this is not the role of a development editor. It is the role of a ghostwriter!
As noted above, developmental editing is often called “structural editing” or “substantive editing.” It can also be confused with line editing (see below). For this reason, if working as a developmental editor it is important to ensure your client knows exactly what work is involved on your part and what they should expect.
Copy editing can involve a lot of elements – or not. You may be familiar with terms like “light edit”, “medium edit” or “heavy edit”. These all refer to the kind of work that might take place during a copy edit.
Some professionals don’t use these distinctions at all, preferring to divide the task load into two separate edits – with copy editing itself being the “lighter” edit (sometimes called “baseline editing”), concentrating on grammar, punctuation, etc., and line editing is the “heavier” edit, looking at each sentence’s meaning, with specific consideration to word choice, sentence clarity and consistency of style.
In this course, we will avoid all of the above terminology and their implied meaning. Instead, we will embrace copy editing as a process that involves both reviewing and correcting written work so as to improve readability, accuracy, sense and style.
Thus, the work of the copy editor is to:
Proofreading – also called “proofing” – is the last check for and correction of errors in a written work before it goes for publication. Thus, it is effectively checking the “proofs” of a text or publication before it goes out into the world. Proofreading dates back centuries to the early days of printing. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a contract of 1499 held the author responsible for the correction of proofs, highlighting the fact that this task was considered important from the beginning of the printed word!
The process is usually carried out on a physical sample of the final output, though more and more proofreaders are starting to use online software to do the job. Proofing involves carefully reading through the pre-publication stage of a document or manuscript to detect errors in spelling, punctuation, and consistency and accuracy in page makeup, layout, including spacing, and type.
It’s very important to understand that a proofreader does not edit for changes in grammar, style, substance or consistency in any of these areas. It’s not the job of the proofer to look to clarify meaning or context of a sentence or section of text. It’s certainly not the job of a proofer to fact-check or manage copyright.
In short, the proof is a quality check before publication and therefore the last “tidy-up” of a text.
So, some of the tasks of a proofer can include: