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  • Alex

Understanding Editing Styles

Updated: Nov 10, 2023


In the world of literature, editors and proofreaders are the unsung heroes shaping manuscripts into polished books. This blog is your guide to the different types of book editing.

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Developmental Editing

Developmental editing involves providing a big-picture assessment of the manuscript. The editor critiques the plot, story arc, organization and structural elements, characters, and dialogue, and then makes recommendations to improve the manuscript. It usually happens after the first or second draft of a book.

What does a developmental editor do?

A developmental editor focuses on improving the content and structure of a novel, nonfiction book, short story or other types of writing. They focus on:

  • Your book's genre: What type of story are you writing? What elements do readers expect from that type of story? Are those elements present in interesting and innovative ways?

  • Your book's structure: Is there a beginning, middle, and end? Does the story include all the elements of storytelling, starting with an inciting incident and building to a climax and resolution?

  • Your book's characters: Do you have too many characters, or too few? What are their goals? Do they make interesting choices to achieve those goals?

  • Your book's theme: What is this book really about? Why did you choose to write it, and what makes it important to you? What do you want readers to take away from it?

When is it done?

Developmental editing is best done after you have an initial draft that is as good as you can get it.

When choosing a developmental editor, you can screen profiles on criteria such as:

  • Industry fit: You want a developmental editor who understands the nuances of publishing in your industry.

  • Project experience: Screen candidate profiles for specific skills and experience (e.g., editing medical dissertations)

  • Feedback: Check their past work and reviews.

  • Critique style: It’s important to determine what style of critique you respond best to. Some writers need editors who are positive and encouraging. Others prefer a more direct style of feedback. Make sure your communication preferences match up. Are face-to-face conversations essential to you? Do you need weekly updates or are you fine to hear from them at a few key points during their edit?

How much does a developmental editor cost?

The cost for developmental editing services can start at $0.04 per word. It works best for authors who are as invested in the writing process as in the final book.

Before your editor starts their developmental edit, you both need to agree on the direction that your book will take. The editor might later return with suggestions for where your manuscript could go — but if they don’t understand your initial vision, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Structural Editing

Unlike developmental editing which concentrates on the development of content and ideas within the writing, structural editing is concerned with the overall structure and organization of a piece of writing.

What does a structural editor do?

Structural editors look at the overall way that a story is structured. They focus on logical flow, style, tone, and general quality of writing.

In fiction, the main areas that a structural editor will address are:

  • Plot: Does the plot make sense? Is it believable? Is it satisfying or does it leave the reader frustrated?

  • Themes: Are the themes effectively handled? Are there so many that the book lacks focus? Do they interfere with the plot or complement it?

  • Characterisation: Are your characters well-developed and believable? Are they cast in a role that fits their personality? Do they sometimes behave out of character?

  • Point of view/voice: Is the voice consistent or is it sometimes confused? Is the voice authentic? Are you using too many or too few POVs?

  • Pace: Does the plot move forward at an appropriate pace? Should you cut that preface? Should the action happen sooner or should the tension build more slowly?

  • Dialogue: Do your characters sound real when they speak? Is your dialogue cluttered with adverbs and beats? Do you use clunky dialogue to move the plot forward?

  • Flow: Is the narrative interrupted by dead-ends and tangents? Is there so much backstory that the main plot is dwarfed? Are there missing plot points that would give the narrative greater integrity?

In non-fiction, structural editors will address:

  • Thesis: Is your thesis relevant? Is it clearly defined or is it lost among marginal issues?

  • Exposition: Are your arguments clear and compelling? Are they well-researched and properly supported? Do they have a clear relationship with your thesis?

  • Content: Are all the necessary topics sufficiently dealt with?

When is it done?

Structural editing is one of the earliest phases of editing, often happening before or at the same time as developmental editing.

How much does a structural editor cost?

The cost of structural editing can vary depending on the editor and the project. The typical pricing range is $0.01–$0.031 per word.

Structural editing can help a writer work through their ideas when paired with developmental editing, or can help them understand how the piece can be improved by re-organizing content in a better way.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is the process of revising written material (copy) to improve readability and fitness, as well as ensuring that a text is free of grammatical and factual errors.

What does a copy editor do?

A copy editor is responsible for polishing a written work. They comb through a written work to identify and correct:

  • Grammar

  • Spelling

  • Tone and style deviations

  • Wordiness

  • Clunky transitions

  • Confusing syntax

  • Problematic or misused words

  • Uneven flow

Copy editing has three levels: light, medium, and heavy. Here’s a brief explanation of each:

  • Light copy editing: This is the most basic level of editing. Editors will check grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, verb-tense consistency, pronouns, spacing, and formatting consistency. Don’t expect editors to make radical changes to your sentences or words at this level.

  • Medium copy editing: This level goes a step further than light copy editing. It includes all tasks in light copy editing and may involve changing text or sentences to improve readability, checking the document’s style and tone, ensuring the document is clear and concise, and that it maintains a consistent flow.

  • Heavy copy editing: Also known as ‘substantive editing,’ this is a deeper involvement with the text that can involve reorganization of passages, tweaking of style and voice, and rewrites3. This level of editing is more comprehensive and can significantly improve the quality of the text.

Each level delivers a different depth of editing service, and the choice of level depends on the quality of the text and the intended audience.

After a copy edit, the copy should be a cohesive, readable piece that adheres to the publication’s tone and style guidelines.

When is it done?

Copy editing takes place after a structural edit but before proofreading.

How's it different from proofreading?

Proofreading takes place after the copy editor has completed their work and before the work is published. A proofreader is a specialized editor who’s tasked with reviewing the mechanical elements of the copy. Proofreading differs from copy editing in that it is charged with cleaning up mechanical inconsistencies overlooked throughout the editing process.

How much does a copy editor cost?

The cost of hiring a copy editor can vary widely based on several factors, including the editor’s experience level, the type of service, and the length and genre of the project. Copy editors often charge between $0.02 and $0.04 per word.

Remember, a good copy editor helps you create the most readable and professional version of your book, improving its chances of success with readers, agents, and publishers.


Proofreading is the process of reviewing and fixing errors within the final draft of your writing to ensure the grammar, spelling, punctuation, and format are consistent and accurate.

What does a proofreader do?

A proofreader is responsible for catching any grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors or inconsistencies. Although the text or manuscript might've gone through top editing, line editing, and copy editing, some errors can still get missed in these early review stages. Proofreading, however, is the last opportunity to correct any errors that might've slipped past before it's published.

When is it done?

Proofreading takes place after the copy editor has completed their work and before the work is published.

Proofreading vs. Editing

Although proofreading is a part of the editing process, editing involves a few key differences. Editors who review the document before a proofreader are often focused on other elements of the text. For example, a top editor might review the document to ensure the ideas and arguments are effective or rework sentences and sections so the entire document flows cohesively.

How much does a proofreader cost?

Proofreading costs can vary based on several factors such as the level of editing required, turnaround time, proofreader’s expertise, and the genre of writing. Some freelance proofreaders charge by the hour or page, but it’s more common to charge by the word. Proofreading typically costs between 1–6 cents ($0.01–$0.06) per word.

Remember, a good proofreader helps you create the most readable and professional version of your book, improving its chances of success with readers, agents, and publishers.


In conclusion, grasping different editing styles is essential for effective communication in the world of writing. Each style, whether it's proofreading, copyediting, or developmental editing, has a unique role in refining content. Understanding when and how to use these techniques results in polished, engaging, and error-free text. This knowledge empowers writers and editors to deliver clear, compelling messages tailored to their specific needs.


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