Types of editing defined

What is editing, exactly? You’ve arrived at this page because you probably realize you need an editor, but you may have only a vague idea of what a professional freelance editor can do for you. There are different levels of editing and different aspects to the process, depending on what stage your writing is at and whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction. On the following pages, I’ve tried to answer some of the most frequent questions I receive about the editorial process. If you don’t see your question answered here, I welcome your e-mails and queries. Perhaps your question will inspire a topic for a new blog post.

Manuscript evaluation

During an evaluation, I will read through and assess your manuscript with careful attention to detail, then provide a written critique. My evaluation will include attention to some or all of the following: punctuation, spelling, grammar, syntax, flow, style, and structure. In the case of fiction, I’ll review plot structure, dialogue, characterization, handling of POV, pacing, and many other elements of fiction. I value every writer’s creative process, so my critique will also include praise and encouragement.

Developmental/project editing

Do you have an idea for a book but don’t know how to begin? Or perhaps your company is working with outdated, unfocused marketing materials and needs an image update. Developmental editing includes co-ordinating and supervising your entire project from rough concept to market-ready product, incorporating input from consultants, designers, and marketing experts to reviewers and other writers, where necessary. I’ll prepare a schedule and cost estimate according to your specific deadlines and budget.

Substantive and structural editing

Ideally, your written work should captivate your reader’s imagination and engage his or her mind fully, without causing frustration or undue backtracking for clarification. Substantive editing means heavy editing, whether structural, stylistic, or copy editing, and is typically a combination of the three. Structural editing focuses on logical organization and flow of content to render your document clear, concise, and easy to read at the sentence, paragraph, and chapter levels. A structural edit will ensure your arguments make sense, your plot develops in a compelling fashion, and your information is conveyed accurately and logically.

Stylistic editing

Every writer has a unique voice and every book has an individual tone, and a good editor will respect and enhance that uniqueness. During stylistic editing, without flouting the conventions of English, I will assist you in clarifying meaning, eliminating jargon and clichés, smoothing language, and polishing your distinct style. I’ll work with you to analyze your target audience and make sure you’re delivering a suitable and impactful message. Stylistic editing may include checking or correcting reading level or, in the case of fiction, adjusting tone and formality of language, including dialogue. Often, stylistic editing occurs at the sentence level, adjusting syntax for better flow, smoothness, and how the sentence “sounds” in the reader’s mind. Stylistic editing is sometimes called line editing.

Copy editing

Copy editing is the level of editing most commonly called for. I’ll check and standardize grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of style. Critical at this level is a thorough check for consistency of style choices, mechanics, and facts. It may include fact-checking, marking heading levels, approximating placement of art, and notifying the designer of any unusual production requirements. It also may include providing or editing cover copy and front and back matter, and spot-checking references. Big changes are not made during the copy editing stage. I’ll consult with you in every instance where I feel an important change is required.


Proofreading is sometimes mistaken for copy editing, but technically speaking, it’s a separate process. Proofing is done after editing and layout, after the page proofs have been prepared by the designer. While copy editing errors may still be found, a proofreader is concerned with other elements. I will check all design elements for accuracy and consistency including headers, level heads, page numbering, word breaks, end-of-line breaks, page breaks, cross references, and appropriate placement of tables and artwork. May include completion of table of contents and index and numbering of cross references. See my page Editing versus proofreading for more about the differences.


Do you suspect your manuscript has significant problems with logic, clarity, or style? Do your characters’ conversations seem stilted and wooden, your descriptive passages dull and flat? Based on your research, outline, and/or the contents of your rough draft, I’ll revise and create a new manuscript for you. This may include some additional research and writing of original material.


A thoughtfully prepared index can improve sales of your book. Preparing a comprehensive, logical index is best done by an indexing specialist with indexing software, which I don’t have, so this is work I will outsource to a specialist whom you approve of. Your indexer will create an alphabetical list of names, places, subjects, and concepts that appear in your work. Working in consultation with you and your designer, he or she will produce an index of appropriate content and length.

Fact checking/reference checking

I’ll check the accuracy of facts and quotations by referencing your original sources and/or checking other sources, usually using the Internet. Fact-checking is an important editorial task in both nonfiction and fiction, requiring an editor who instinctively knows when facts may be amiss. Even though I may not know the facts themselves, many years of editing have taught me to know when and what to check, and how and where to look things up.

A magnifying glass sits on top of an open dictionary.