Editing is an invisible job. To the untrained eye, an editor’s work will go unnoticed. When an editor has done their job right, there should be nothing to distract from the reading experience—it should be smooth and immersive. Like many other invisible jobs, you only notice when there’s a mistake, which can be incredibly jarring.
I like to compare editing to IT operations. When a network is up and running, no one thinks twice about it. But the second your connection is interrupted or you can’t get a page to load as quickly as usual, you might mutter under your breath, “What is IT doing over there?” In editing, this happens when you see a typo in a piece of content. If you’re anything like me, you think to yourself, “Someone messed up!” But really, there’s much more to editing than catching every mistake.
Editing is part art and part science: The art of editing involves taking a step back and looking at the story that needs to be told, then removing the unnecessary fluff clouding that vision. The science of editing focuses on quality assurance—fixing all those pesky typos and ensuring a standard of consistency. When combined, they can transform an average piece of writing into a masterpiece. That’s the true value of editing.
The Different Types of Editing
On my Services page, I describe a few different types of editing, and it’s important to understand the distinction between them to get exactly what you need:
- Proofreading: Proofreading is probably what most people think of as “editing,” but it’s usually the last part of the editing process. Proofreading is meant to be a final pass to catch any errors that may have slipped through the other parts of the editing process. In reality, there shouldn’t be a ton of mistakes being caught in this step—only very minor typos, like spelling errors. That said, it is a vital part of the process, especially if a piece of content has gone through multiple revisions. It’s also essential for maintaining consistency in style.
- Copy Editing: Copy editing is what I usually think of as “editing.” It’s more involved than proofreading, because it includes looking at each line within a piece of content, deconstructing and rebuilding it to improve grammar, wording, and flow. Where proofreading focuses on eliminating errors, copy editing focuses on eliminating excess. A copy editor may significantly cut down the word count as they tighten the language and transition between sentences and paragraphs. Writers tend to get very attached to every word they write, but editors can help take a more objective stance and strip away the unnecessary layers to reveal the story at the heart of the content.
- Substantive Editing: Substantive editing is all about the big picture. It’s about taking in a piece as a whole and asking: “Is this story told the right way? Does it work as is?” It’s very much a developmental phase focused on structure, organization, and the overall narrative. The editor may work closely with the writer in this phase to understand the vision and then help them make that vision a reality, like how a sculptor looks at a piece of stone and sees the statue within. Substantive editing needs more than a meticulous attention to detail—you must be able to conceptualize and understand the steps that need to be taken to realize that concept. I love substantive editing, because it’s all about form. It can take a lot of work, but the end product really benefits from a comprehensive substantive edit—and it can make copy editing and proofreading easier!
How to Find a Good Editor
To really get the full value of editing, you need to find the right person for the job. That said, even the best editor will miss something every now and then, so it’s best to be cautious with someone who guarantees 100% error-free content—that sets impossible-to-meet expectations.
You should also look for someone who can offer more than just a meticulous attention to detail. A good editor is patient. A good editor asks questions and never assumes. A good editor understands storytelling, from form to function.
These are just some of the traits to look for in an editor. At the end of the day, writers and editors are both wordsmiths, just in different ways: one specializes in forging the blade, while the other focuses on sharpening it. By working with a good editor, you can transform your content into the best it can be—and your readers will thank you.
If you’re interested in discussing this concept more, don’t hesitate to reach out to me via my Contact Page. I offer a variety of content marketing services, including editing, writing, and consulting.
Looking for more on my approach to content marketing? Check out my other blog posts here.