I do several types of editing: developmental, line, and copy editing. A developmental edit helps authors find their voice and refine their vision, and usually involves an in-depth review of the content, giving the author feedback on things like structure, style, where further research should be done, and what direction the work should take. A line edit (which might include a fair bit of rewording to polish) involves editing for flow, clarity, accuracy, and consistency, while a basic copy edit is a review of the text for mechanical issues like spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
A developmental editor (DE) helps an author develop ideas—or develop a manuscript if it already exists—into a coherent, readable work. She helps the author form a vision for the book, then coaches the author chapter by chapter to ensure that the vision is successfully executed.
A DE’s work concentrates on three major areas:
- Does the author's premise, thesis, message, or conclusion make sense? Does it need supporting research or citations?
- Is the overall structure logical?
- Are any chapters repetitious, out of place, or unnecessary? Are the chapters about the same length? Do they need to be?
- What might help clarify the information—headings, subheadings, transitional paragraphs, case studies, quotations, anecdotes?
- Would the more technical information be made easier to understand by organizing it into tables, charts, or graphics rather than describing them within the text?
- Is the author's voice appropriate for the book? Is it too personal or too impersonal? Is it stiff or too passive?
- Are there run-on sentences, repetitious explanations, or passages that are confusing?
This can verge on an almost total rewrite of the book, but it usually proceeds on an incremental, detail-oriented level. In addition to performing the tasks of simple copy editing, a good editor takes an active role in initiating changes.
In a line edit:
- Sentences will be polished and reworded to improve clarity and flow and to get rid of repetition, clumsy wording, an overuse of passive voice, and convoluted sentence structure.
- Facts are checked and corrected, sections may be rearranged if necessary, and subheads and chapter titles might be reworked to make them catchier, funnier, or more dramatic.
- If authors use too much slang where it is inappropriate or have a blind spot about when their tone is no longer “reader-friendly," a good editor will make suggestions to remedy these problems.
For a light to medium copy edit, the copy editor will:
- Correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and problems with syntax.
- Prepare the work in proper manuscript format.
- Make style decisions based on the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Take care of endless details that most authors are unaware of but publishers, readers (and your sophomore English teacher) are so passionate about.