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The (Almost) 31 Flavors of Editing
September 12, 2016
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By Catherine Sprankle, Chapter Member

Catherine Sprankle
Catherine Sprankle
If you’re a “certain age” you may remember when Baskin Robbins advertised its 31 flavors of ice cream: a different one for every day of the month. Sometimes it seems like there are almost that many different “flavors” of editing. But agreeing on whether a “copy edit” or “content edit” is required for a project is a lot more complicated than deciding between chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and the meanings of the names for various levels of editing are less universally understood.
In her webinar on “The Basics of Editing and Proofreading” presented to STC earlier this year, Ruth Thaler-Carter presented a wealth of advice for people who edit documents as part of their jobs or are seeking to become freelance editors. One section of her talk focused on the levels of editing.

Understanding the different levels of editing and agreeing with your client on what level of editing is needed is crucial to the successful outcome of an editing project. It can help if you both understand the meaning of the terms below, listed below roughly in order of lowest to highest complexity.
  • The major goal of proofreading is to catch obvious errors before printing or posting. A proofread may also be done to ensure that edits requested in previous rounds of editing have been incorporated; to do this, the editor must have access to those previous drafts.
  • Copy editing is probably what most people think of when they refer to “editing”. An editor conducting a copy edit checks for correctness of spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation. She also checks accuracy of cross-references and consistency of style throughout a document. Copy editing is rules-based and may involve development of a style sheet or style guide.
  • Substantive editing may also be referred to as comprehensive, line, or content editing. Rather than simply ensuring a document is consistent and grammatically correct, the goal of a substantive edit is to make a document more functional for its readers. To do this, the editor may rewrite or reorganize the text, make changes to the overall structure of the document, or suggest additional content or changes in style. The editor should discuss the proposed changes with the author to ensure that they reflect the author’s goals and preserve his voice.
  • An editor conducting a development edit works alongside the author from the beginning of a project to define goals for a document, research the market to ensure that a proposed document will be filling a need, and develop an outline and content scope. She may coach the author in the writing process and make a substantial enough contribution to a document to merit co-authorship credit.
  • The terms project editor or production editor refer more to a role rather than a task. This person oversees the production of a technical document from start to finish. She may hire editors, proofreaders, indexers, and others to perform specific editing tasks. She is responsible for making sure the individual parts of the document form a coherent whole, and also oversees final publication.
Now that you’re familiar with the different flavors of editing, read my Communique article “Three Questions to Ask Before You Start That Editing Project” for a guide to how to discuss an upcoming project with a client. You may also want to view the recording of Ruth’s webinar, available for purchase on the STC website.

Catherine Sprankle can be reached at cssprankle at yahoo dot com. Read more articles by Catherine Sprankle. End of article.

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