The 4 Different Editorial Passes and How to Tell Them Apart
I have heard countless authors, when looking to hire an editor, say:
“I need a proofreader to edit my book.”
Editing and proofreading are not one and the same. In fact, editing is a vague term that can mean a couple of different things. Sometimes people even use the term “editing” to mean “proofreading.”
Do you know the difference between editing and proofreading?
If not, you have come to the right place. In this article I am going to explain the 4 main editorial passes—developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading—so that you can determine what your writing needs when it comes time to hire an editor or proofreader.
As you read about the 4 main editorial passes below, think about the shape of a funnel. From big-picture concepts to the most minute of details, your writing should be edited in the following order:
Often referred to as substantive or content editing, developmental editing is the first phase of the editorial process.
As I alluded above, developmental editing vets overarching concepts. This will look slightly different depending on whether your work is fiction (follows a storyline) or nonfiction (my zone of genius lies in the business and self-help genres), but of course, developmental editing is necessary in either case.
Here are just some of the questions I seek to answer when I perform a developmental edit:
- Does your argument follow an internal logic?
- Are there obvious inconsistencies?
- Is there a clear, organized structure?
- Are the ideas well developed?
- Are there argumentative points that should be rearranged?
It is important to note that we are NOT checking for grammar, spelling, or punctuation, which are issues that can and should be solved later, once the important concepts are in place.
What sounds like a country dance is the first step toward getting the details right. The developmental edit has made sure that your content follows a clear structure and that there are no obvious inconsistencies.
For the line edit, we’ll now take the reins and examine the text line by line. We will make sure that your voice (writing style) is consistent throughout.
If your text is fictional, your line editor will also pay attention to characterization and dialogue to make sure that actions and words are consistent and not out-of-character.
Since I focus on the genres of business and personal development, I will help make your ideas as concise as possible and your message clear while staying true to your individual voice as a writer.
In addition, a line edit will make your writing as engaging and effective as possible by avoiding repetition, clichés, or vague words and phrases.
Your writing has been restructured in the developmental edit and your style has been refined in the line edit. We are getting closer to the nitty-gritty, but before proofreading, copyediting is an essential cog in the editorial wheel.
In a copyedit, I will check for:
- Misused words (such as homonyms)
- Repetition or missing words
- Formatting and layout issues
Although this list is non-exhaustive (and please consider ALL that comes under the umbrella of grammar alone!), you will be so glad to have someone correct the above points for you.
The truth is, leaving these mistakes in your writing is detrimental to your message. So many writers do not have the time, the patience, or sometimes even the know-how in order to escape many of these common mistakes.
In addition, writers almost never have enough distance between themselves and their own writing to be able to spot these issues! A copyeditor is therefore a crucial step in the editorial process, but we’re not done, yet.
Last but certainly not least, we have the proofreading pass. At its core, proofreaders exist to ensure that your writing is perfect for publication.
The proofreader checks that the copyeditor’s suggestions were made. If the copyeditor ensures that the line editor’s suggestions were made, and the line editor ensures that the developmental editor’s suggestions were made, then the proofreader is your last line of defense to ensure that basically, all the changes through each of the prior editorial passes were made!
As the final stage of editing, proofreading is essential. Major issues have already been fixed in prior passes. In proofreading, I will not suggest changes that would affect the big picture, but I will find and fix every last niggly typo and anything that might have been overlooked during the previous editorial passes.
Do not skip this stage! You would be surprised at how many mistakes make it through three rounds of editing. I will eliminate all of them so that your ideas shine through without any distracting errors.
You can now publish with confidence!
What type of editing do you need?
I hope this article helped to demystify the different editorial passes for you. Now you know, from big picture to fine details, the revisions you can expect me to bring to your cherished work.
One last misconception I would like to clear up is another related question I often get asked by those who have already gone through (or skipped entirely) the developmental and line editing phases:
“Can you copyedit and proofread my document in one pass?”
The answer is no. Copyediting and proofreading are each its own distinct editorial pass. I have already spelled out the differences for you above, so you can see that it makes no sense to proofread something that hasn’t already been copyedited.
I cannot understate the necessity of both the copyediting pass and the proofreading pass. Now you might be thinking:
“But Jessica, I thought you only offered copyediting and proofreading?”
Good news! In the fall of 2021, I added developmental and line editing to my services. Now we can go through all 4 editorial passes together!
Maybe now you’re thinking:
“Okay, Jessica, you can handle all my editing needs. But what if I haven’t finished my manuscript yet? I’m stuck!”
Oh, the dreaded writers block. (You read that right—no apostrophe.)
Even more good news: I got you here, too. In February 2022, I added editorial assessments to my lineup! Also called a manuscript review, an editorial assessment takes stock of what you have so far and provides a clear path forward so you can get unstuck. Get recommendations on what’s working and what’s not, writing best practices, and early feedback on your partial manuscript before you finish. As a bonus, if you implement the suggestions from the editorial review as you complete your manuscript, you’ll likely avoid having to perform a developmental edit later.
Cheers to making your writing the best it can be! And if you have any questions at all about the editorial process, do not hesitate to write to me.