Three types of editing (and what you should be asking for)

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As a writer, it’s important to understand what you’re asking for when you bring a piece to an editor. There are several different types of editing, that require different levels of involvement from your editor. Do you want to talk about grammar and punctuation, or do you want an editor’s thoughts on the work overall? Is this request for a critique, or a glorified spellcheck? Perhaps you don’t know where you are in the writing process, and you want someone else to tell you. Editors can do that too. But understanding what categories of editing your work may fall into will help you define your expectations from an editor.

Developmental Editing

This is the most time-consuming and substantial form of editing. This is where an editor will address the higher order concerns of a work. Consider it a bird’s-eye view of your piece as a whole. They’ll be checking for some sort of order, logic, and overall consistency. Sentences, or even entire paragraphs, could be moved, rearranged, and rewritten.  At this point, it is important to be open to an editor’s suggested changes. The editor is on your team, asking “What is your message, and what’s the best way for other people to hear it? Are there any weaknesses, and how can we fix them?” An editor may ask deeper questions about the work, and set goals and timelines for answering those questions. Developmental editing is, overall, a collaborative effort.

Copy Editing

This focuses on grammar, style, and sentence structure. The editor will be looking at chunks of text, as well as consistency from sentence to sentence. For instance, if at one point a character’s car is a Honda Accord and later becomes a Honda Civic, this will be marked.


This is the last thing you should be asking for. Proofreading is for fine-tuning. Proofreaders look at spelling, grammar, punctuation, Proofreading is not reorganizing or restructuring an argument.

No matter what you are looking for from an editor, be sure you express your expectations clearly. Also, try to be open to what an editor has to say. An editor’s job is to help you put your best work forward. This may take some time, and probably more than one go-round. But it can be an enjoyable and collaborative process if you and your editor are setting goals and communicating well.