Monday, March 3, 2014

What's the Difference Between Developmental Editing, Content Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading?



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When you hear the word “editing,” you—like most people—probably think of someone who fixes grammar and punctuation, right? Well, that’s definitely one type, but there are actually a few different types of editing, and each one is vital to your book’s success.

I, myself, used to get confused sometimes distinguishing the various editing terms, so I imagine you might too. Well, be confused no more ... your friendly book doctor is here to explain!

Let’s start with the granddaddy of editing, which we call “developmental” or “content” editing. These terms are used interchangeably, and you can remember it’s the big one because it deals with every detail of the overall development and content of your non-fiction book or novel. 

In non-fiction, this type of editor must focus on every aspect of your book’s structure and message, such as:

  • the overall flow, clarity, and consistency
  • the voice of your book and how your reader will connect with you
  • where it might be lacking anywhere in content and what it needs to be complete
  • if the reader will learn/be inspired/get motivated/feel better from the content
  • if your book’s overarching goal—AKA benefit to your readers—is met with the content of every chapter

In fiction, the focus is on:

  • story arc
  • character development and integrity (would this character do this?) and their actions and reactions
  • the believability and flow of dialogue
  • plot—including twists, pace, suspense, plausibility, etc.
  • the essence of the story itself
  • the use of “showing vs. telling”

Whew! With all of those elements to focus on, you can see why your developmental or content editor is essential to building a book of credibility on every level, a task that commands a great deal of thoughtful attention and many passes through the content to polish it to its worthy shine.

Next, we have copy editing—also sometimes called line editing—which is the one most people think about when they hear the term “editor.” The copy editor is the person whose expertise lies in:

  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling
  • style
  • sentence and paragraph structure
  • vocabulary usage
  • fact-checking, if necessary

A copy editor often receives the manuscript AFTER the developmental editor and performs his or her task at that point, while some developmental editors are also copyeditors—like me!—and perform both types of editing for you concurrently. Either way, the copy editing phase is a vital one and will ensure the integrity of the language and syntax used in your book reflects you as the author in your best light!

Hang in there! There’s just one more level of “editing” and that’s proofreading

This is the phase that happens AFTER all of the developmental and copy editing is complete, and is typically performed on an actual printed proof copy of the book. You’d be surprised what you see in a print vs. a screen version of a book, so at least three rounds of proofreading—meaning order a book, proofread, make corrections; order another book, proofread, make corrections; repeat as many times as necessary—is what I recommend from experience to every author.

This is the last phase to ensure that every element is accurate and polished before it goes live for sale, so don’t underestimate the importance of having your professional proofreader—along with yourself and your trusted circle—perform as many rounds as needed to make sure it’s reached its worthy shine before publishing the final version.

If you were confused before you watched this video/read this article, I hope you now feel like an expert! I know keeping the terms straight can be overwhelming, but now that you know the different types of editing and the importance of each, I’m certain you’re on the right path to producing a book of excellence!



Make sure your book goes through each crucial phase of editing: developmental or content editing, then copy editing, then proofreading before you consider it ready for publication. There’s no greater investment you’ll make in your book than hiring a professional who specializes in each type of editing to ensure your words, structure, and message are polished to gleaming for your eager readers!

Stay tuned for my next video where I explain how to obtain an ISBN—and why you should never use a CreateSpace freebie. In the meantime, if you liked this video/post, I'd love it if you gave it a thumbs up and shared it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or your favorite social media site so that other writers can benefit too!

Write from the heart ...

Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscripts into the books they've dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.  

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