If you’re confused about types of edits and editors, you’re not alone. It’s ironic that in a profession dedicated to clear communication,
the terms for what we do and when we do it are often unclear. Here’s how I describe them. Which and how many of these you need depends on your writing and your goals.
Types and stages of editing
Dev Editing (Developmental Editing) goes deep. It’s structural. It can create or change outlines, cut out whole sections or chapters, and identify gaps. If you have a great idea and a box of notes, a good dev editor can help you build an outline and then a book from them. I dev edit short pieces but not entire books.
Line Editing happens when the right pieces are (at least mostly) in the right order and it's time to focus on language and meaning. It improves the quality of the writing. It, too, can go deep, unearthing plot flaws, continuity errors, and sequencing problems that get in the reader's way. But line edits are chiefly about making sure the writing reads well, start to finish, in a style that's true to the author. All edits are marked as proposed revisions so the author has the final say. Line editing is my sweet spot.
Copyediting focuses on finding mistakes or clumsiness in usage, grammar, and syntax. It makes things clear and clean. Many clients who think they’re ready for copyediting or proofreading actually need line editing too.
Proofreading checks for typos and spelling errors, grammatical errors, misused words, inconsistencies in spacing and capitalizations, and other details that mark the difference between a professional and an unprofessional product.
Points of confusion
Dev editing and line editing sometimes overlap. Line editing and copyediting often overlap or merge. Proofreading and copyediting also often overlap or merge. However, although a line edit catches many errors, the close reading that a line edit requires actually interferes with proofreading. Line editing and proofreading use two quite different approaches to the text.
Before you publish
Pre-print review: This is a careful check of the “ready to print” designed layout of the book, article, or website. The transition from manuscript to layout can produce errors in spacing, dropped or crowded lines, widowed lines, etc. It can also help overlooked errors stand out. Page numbers are finalized and applied to the table of contents, references, index, end notes, and so on.
Printer’s proof review: For printed books, this is a careful review of a printed copy before more copies are published. Its main purpose is to make sure the printed version looks exactly as it should.