Proofreading? Copy Editing? Stylistic Editing? What’s the difference, and which one do you need? There are many different types of editing, and they are easily confused. Here’s a basic breakdown of the types of editing I offer here at The Eyrie:
In a nutshell, proofreading is a last word-by-word run-through of otherwise fully prepared materials. The proofreader’s main goal is to pick up any last typos, misspellings, or grammar issues that were missed (or introduced—it happens!) during the editing process. A proofreader often compares the most current document against the previous version to ensure that all edits have been applied and no new errors have been introduced.
The proofreader comes in at the end of the editing process, and they only cover the mechanics of the writing: grammar, punctuation, spelling, and typos. They won’t make suggestions on content, word choice, or any other non-mechanical changes, unless something is glaringly wrong or somehow incomprehensible.
Most often, the proofreading phase will take place once the work is in its final form and has been formatted for publication (whether in print or digitally)—hence its name: it’s the last-chance reading of the “proofs” before it goes to print.
2. Copy Editing
Copy editing involves a thorough check of your materials for any mechanical errors, which could include typos, grammar mistakes, or misspellings. A copy editor also makes sure that style choices are applied consistently throughout the work, according to your style sheet or whichever style guide you prefer. If you don’t have a style sheet or preferred guide, your editor will be able to recommend a style guide, and they can help you develop a style sheet if necessary. In copy editing, the content itself (and how it well it reads) is not generally addressed, other than very occasional notes on obvious problems with clarity or consistency.
Copy editing is often what people think of when they think of editing in general. A copy editor takes the draft of your work (once the content is settled) and combs through it to ensure that the grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage are at their best. They will fix mechanical errors and typos, and make sure that the work is readable and makes sense.
3. Stylistic editing (or line editing)
Stylistic editing, also known as line editing, is about finding the best way to get your message across. The focus is on flow, clarity, tone, and consistency; the changes suggested by your editor will apply to the content and how it is presented rather than mechanics and corrections. When a stylistic edit is done on your work, the editor will make suggestions for how to better arrange your words and sentences, help you make better word choices, and ensure your writing flows well. The goal is to have writing that is as crisp, clear, tight, and clean as possible.
A stylistic editor keeps the reader or intended audience in mind, and makes sure that the reading level and word choices are the best ones possible for your intended audience.
Often a stylistic edit and a copy edit will happen at the same time, but when you have a stylistic edit done, it is assumed that most mechanical corrections will be done later in the copy editing and proofreading stages.
So there you have it, a quick overview of the main types of editing offered here at The Eyrie Editing and Writing. For more information on the different types of editing, check out Editors Canada’s handy definitions—or if you’re looking for more in-depth descriptions of each type, see their document on Professional Editorial Standards.