In the market for an editor? If you’ve done any kind of shopping around you’ve probably seen estimates for different kinds of editorial services, which can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the terms. Here’s a quick run-down of different kinds of editing.
Proofreading is the most basic kind of editing and is typically done just prior to publication (on- or offline). When an editor is proofreading they’re just looking for blatant errors—a random period here, a lower-case proper noun there—really obvious mistakes that a user would probably notice at a glance.
Copyediting (light and heavy)
Copyediting is more involved than proofreading. To copyedit is to dig into the language and logic of a text and work some degree of editorial magic to make it as flawless as possible. The mistakes an editor catches at this level can be obvious, but many of them are subtle and require an understanding of English’s nuances to catch. They can also be matters of style—the AP Stylebook has a different rule for state abbreviations than the Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, so a copyeditor would be on the lookout for places where a text deviates from a given style and make it conform.
It’s all a matter of degree, though. In a “light” copyedit, an editor will proceed gently, looking mostly for surface issues and not interfering too much with tone or voice. In a “heavy” copyedit they’ll dive right in and move sentences or entire paragraphs to improve readability. They’ll also eliminate wordiness, improve the overall flow, check facts, and flag any ambiguous or misleading statements. For clients that are struggling to communicate their brand or really engage customers, we would recommend a heavy copyedit. For clients who just want to strengthen their text and make sure it’s correct, we’d recommend a light copyedit.
Content development (or “content editing” or “substantive editing”)
This is basically a super-heavy copyedit. At this level of editing, an editor is working with very rough, incomplete, or disorganized text and doing a complete overhaul, often rewriting much of the text and changing or elevating the tone in the process. Content development is mostly associated with traditional publishing, however (if a book is in rough shape, it needs content development, but if a website is rough, it needs to be rewritten). When we do work above-and-beyond a heavy edit, we consider it “copywriting” because we’re essentially rewriting the text.
Just a little tidbit: the terms “proofreading” and “copyediting” aren’t as arbitrary as they seem. “Proofreading” comes from the practice of doing a final check for errors on “page proofs,” i.e., images of book pages before they go to print. “Copyediting” comes from the term “copy.” Newspapers in particular call their text “copy,” which seems counterintuitive as en editor because you’re editing original text, not copied text, but in the print world it’s text that’s meant to be reproduced in print so they call it “copy.” The very idea of “copy” doesn’t really apply in web editing, but the word “copyediting” will likely stick around.
Posted by Jessica Swope, web editor for Business Bullpen. You can follow Jessica on Tumblr.