Blog posts. E-books. Banner ads. Social media posts. The marketing world is full of content that aims to capture attention, inform, and inspire action. The verdict is set and (you know this): content is king.
At this point, most agencies and in-house marketing departments have full-time Copywriters responsible for the words that populate their materials. But when the same people are producing and reviewing content all the time, it can be easy for mistakes—think: typos, inconsistencies, poor structure—to make it all the way through production.
That’s where Editors come in. As a Freelance Editor, I work with a variety of companies to make sure their marketing content is up to snuff. I do everything from suggesting different blog post intros to making sure that e-book headings are capitalized consistently to catching embarrassing spelling errors.
All of these things fall under the big, polka-dot umbrella of “editing,” but they actually represent different kinds of editing.
I break down the main three kinds of editing below, but before we get into it, let’s answer this question:
Why Do We Need Different Kinds of Editing?
It might seem most efficient to hand a piece of content to an Editor and just tell them to hammer away—point out anything that seems off, whether it’s choice of words, organization of ideas, or paragraph construction. This can work if a piece is fully developed, but the reality is, if a piece is still in the early, rough stage, spelling and grammar are not the most pressing needs.
Let that sink in for a moment: Spelling and grammar might not be the most important right now.
If the people developing your content aren’t Writers—or if they’re just learning the craft—you’ll probably need to spend more time helping them hone their ideas. If you have an Editor implement all forms of editing at once, the Author will be overloaded with feedback that might be hard to prioritize. For example:
A Researcher is writing a consumer-facing blog post about the neurological benefits of exercise. He’s used to writing for a research audience that knows scientific lingo, but this blog post is for the non-research crowd that has a basic understanding of exercise but doesn’t really know how the brain works. An Editor is given his article to mark up and proceeds to:
- Critique the structure: Can we use a more colorful example to grab the reader’s attention? Maybe something about the exhilaration you feel after a good run
- Tell the Author to avoid industry jargon: Rather than using the full scientific names, let’s just explain what these things do in a way that non-brain scientists can understand—maybe use an analogy to communicate the idea?
- Correct a load of grammatical mistakes
- Suggest moving a couple sections around
- Question the word choice
The list could go on but here’s the point: By the time the Editor’s done, the document is so marked up that when the Author looks at it, he’s overwhelmed and has no idea where to start his revisions. And the comments aren’t given varying weights or priorities—he’s supposed to decode what’s most important, a task that can be difficult whether or not he’s an experienced Writer. Should he fix the structure first or the grammatical errors? The errors seem easier, but the structure change might eliminate that content entirely so fixing those errors might be a waste of time.
This is why we need different kinds of editing.
When implemented at the right point in content development, different kinds of editing:
- Limit the scope of the Editor
- Set priorities for both Editor and Writer
- Smooth the content development process by placing a critical eye on what’s most important at that point in the process
How do you know what type of editing you should implement right now? The answer comes from understanding where you are in the content development process and what the different types of editing are.
3 Different Kinds of Editing
Some people break editing down into more than three categories, but these three are what you’ll typically find in the publishing world. They narrow the editorial focus without being too exclusive. You don’t need eight different kinds of editing for a single 500-word blog post. (I would actually say if a blog post that short requires more than two hours of editing, you should probably find a new Writer—one that does his homework and understands how to organize thoughts logically.)
We’ll start with big picture, or developmental, editing.
1. Developmental Editing: The 30,000-Foot View
Forget grammar and spelling and sentence construction for a minute. Developmental editing looks at an entire piece from beginning to end and asks these questions:
- What is the piece about? Are all sections relevant to this core idea?
- Is the intro (a.k.a. lead) engaging and attention-grabbing?
- Does the intro appropriately set up the rest of the piece?
- Does the order of thoughts or ideas make sense? Are we building on ideas or bouncing around randomly?
- Is the conclusion satisfying? Does it wrap things up well or does it just repeat what was already said?
The whole idea is to make sure that the piece appropriately serves its purpose. Is it meant to inform? Inspire action? Spark curiosity? Does it do that? Is it written in a way that people will actually read?
The Editor asks these questions and then makes suggestions based on the answers. If the intro isn’t engaging, the Editor points that out and offers ideas for how to make it engaging. If the thoughts don’t make sense in their current order, the Editor comes up with a potential solution: Try switching these paragraphs around and adding some more information about how increased blood flow plays into this. The Editor might point out some glaring errors—keep an eye on your spelling of “endorphins”—but she keeps the main focus on the big picture, making sure that the piece holds up on a broad level.
When to Use Developmental Editing
Developmental editing should be used in the earlier stages of content development. If you’re working with a Writer who doesn’t have much experience, it may be helpful to bring an Editor into the ideation stage to help outline ideas in a logical way, but this is certainly not a requirement.
Even experienced Writers need help shaping their work—it’s the classic “can’t see the forest for the trees”—so keeping an Editor on call for structural edits is useful for all communicators. You will, however, want plenty of time before the pieces go to production. That way, if the structural suggestions require significant rewriting, your Writers won’t be rushed to get it done when they’re just wrapping their heads around the best way to organize their ideas.
2. Copyediting, a.k.a. Line Editing: Meaning, Effect, Impact
Developmental editing and copyediting are my two favorite types of editing. I like developmental editing because I enjoy engineering the best, most interesting ways to organize thoughts and ideas, and I enjoy copyediting because it gets into the sound and rhythm of words, as well as the expression of ideas.
Also known as line editing, copyediting happens on the paragraph and sentence level. Here, the Editor asks similar questions to those asked in developmental editing, but on a smaller scale:
- Does this paragraph begin and end in the right place?
- Does this transition between ideas work? Is the transition missing or falling flat
- Do the ideas between these sentences connect?
Copyediting also takes a look at word choice and sentence structure to make sure things are a) correct and b) expressing the thought in the most clear and accurate way. Copyediting raises questions of relevance and coherence: I’m not sure why you’re telling us about your choice of running shoe—does that influence brain chemistry when exercising? This part about drugs seems random. Maybe save it for a separate post on drugs and brain chemistry?
Copyediting also critiques the flow of sentences. Sometimes, there are two words that mean the same thing, but one flows better with the surrounding content. Copyediting considers whether the order and choice of words are aesthetically pleasing, and whether or not they’re achieving the desired impact: I would change “So get off the couch already,” to something more friendly. Maybe: “So lace up your sneakers and hit the trails! Your brain will thank you later.”
When to Use Copyediting
Once your content’s overarching structure is solid, bring the Copyeditor in. Again, everyone can use copyediting help regardless of their writing experience. (More brains = more brainpower.) However, less experienced Writers may require more rounds of copyediting, so keep that in mind when you’re planning projects. Also, if you find that Copyeditors are still marking things up like crazy on a third round, you might have either a Copyeditor problem or a weak Writer problem. It may be time to invest in more writing training.
3. Proofreading: Avoiding Embarrassing Mistakes
This is the form of editing that most people know and understand. It’s where grammar nerds live and are finally given rein to fix everything they see that’s wrong. Grammar and spelling are the main items of business for Proofreaders, as well as making sure everything follows the editorial style. Correctness and consistency is what Proofreaders are aiming for. Proofreaders may also comment on questionable word choices or sentence constructions that seem weak or unwieldy. Generally, if a Proofreader comments on something that isn’t grammar or spelling, it’s because the issue was so glaring, they couldn’t just let it slide—so you should probably heed their advice and address it.
Proofreading is the most scientific and analytical of these three forms of editing. Grammar rules are just that—rules—so if they’re not being followed, expect a slew of red marks. If they notice consistent mistakes, a good Proofreader will go the extra mile and point them out, explaining why they’re wrong and what should be done instead. They do this so that you can learn from your mistakes and deliver better content the next time around.
When to Use Proofreading
Proofreaders are your last line of defense, but you should use them more than once: before production and after the content has been designed (before it’s been published). You want to deliver the cleanest content possible to your production team, but mistakes may still get through that pre-design round of proofreading so proofreading should be done at least twice. If your Proofreader finds a significant number of errors on round one before design, send it back for a second round, maybe even a third. And watch for mistake patterns so that you and/or your Proofreader can search specifically for recurring issues. (“Find and replace” in Google Docs and Word is one of my favorite tools. I use it all the time to check for issues like using “its” instead of “it’s”.)
The Final Word
Implementing the right form of editing at the right time in your content development process can work wonders for your content (and ease the stress on your Writers). You might have gifted Editors in-house for one or more of these types of editing, but if you need a Freelance Editor, Artisan can help you find the right candidate. Reach out today.
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