Editing a paper

What Kind of Editor Do I Need?

You finished your first draft, you’ve made your revisions and now you’re ready for an editor – Congratulations! But wait, what kind of editing does your piece need?

There are several different levels of editing. When working with a freelance editor in a traditional one-on-one relationship, you’re bound by their particular style and skill set. But Penmob is different. We makes it easy for you to work with a variety of editors with a variety of strengths.

This is a guide to the different types of editing that can be applied to your piece. But even if you’re an inexperienced writer unsure of what type of work your piece needs, don’t worry. Our editors will have your bases covered.

Levels of Editing
The Institute of Professional Editors lists three main levels of editing:

  • Substantive (or Developmental) editing
  • Copy editing
  • Proofreading

Developmental Editing
Developmental editing is the most involved level of editing. In one-on-one on editing or a group doc environment, you might feel overwhelmed when you get your piece back all marked up. Where do you begin making corrections? What exactly did your editor mean by this note? Is this a change you really need to make or is it just your editor’s preference? Yikes!

Penmob’s workshop environment makes the editing process more of a conversation. So, you can interact with your editors and make changes to your piece that help you work toward executing your vision.

The primary focus of developmental edits are to increase your audience’s enjoyment of your work and their ease of reading. Your editor will make changes to:

  • Structure – You want your reader to be able to easily get from A to Z. That could mean being able to follow your plot from beginning to end or track your train of thought from thesis to conclusion. Your editor will rearrange paragraphs and sentences with this goal in mind.
  • Content – Your editor might make suggestions for information that needs to be added, changed or cut. Do you have a tendency to let your thoughts wander down the page for sentences on end? Your editor can help you hone in on what’s interesting to the reader. Are you stingy with the details? Your editor can help you add scenery, character description or break down complex thoughts. If you struggle executing an idea clearly, your editor might add some of their own writing to your piece to help you out.
  • Language – Changes to language can come in many different forms. Maybe you have a word you use too frequently; your editor can help by suggesting an alternate word. Your editor will also be on the lookout for clichés, taboo words, words that are used incorrectly and other language related issues. This is also the level where your editor will correct language that is too elevated or too casual. For example, if you slide into an academic writing tone in your short story or you drop a colloquial into your cover letter.
  • Style – Every writer has a unique voice. That voice should be consistent throughout your entire piece. Imagine you’re reading a spooky story narrated by Dracula and midway through the narrator starts to sound more like the Tooth Fairy – bizarre and unpleasant. While style shifts in your writing might not be that extreme, they can happen as you move from draft to draft. An editor can help you spot those shifts and correct them.
  • Format – If you’re applying for a contest, submitting your work to a literary journal or a magazine or even just writing for your own blog, there are usually formatting expectations you should abide by. An editor can even help you make all those paragraph indents you forgot.

Copy Editing
Copy editing is the level where your editor will get down to the nitty-gritty. They’ll take on the persona of the persnickety-iest English teacher you had in school. Your editor will be checking for:

  • Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation – Trust me, we’re all a little rusty when it comes to this category. Your editor will comb through your piece and get you together. This is likely where a lot of sentence level revisions will go down. Tight sentences make a piece sing! Your editor can also give you hand swapping out all those double spaces after a period for single spaces (Yeah, that’s totally a thing now).
  • Uniformity: Did you spell “Brittany” with an “a” in one chapter but use “Britney” in the next? Did you go from using dashes to colons on your bulleted list (I know I just did 😉)? Does your character go from a Marlboro Man to a Lucky Strike fan in a matter of paragraphs? Your copy editor is there to catch all of these inconsistencies.
  • Accuracy – Checking for accuracy takes a close eye. Your editor is going to click all of your links and make sure they take your reader to the right place, double-check your facts (Was the teddy bear really named after Teddy Roosevelt? YUP.), make sure you didn’t say 18 inches when you really meant 18 feet and other errors you may have overlooked in your own revisions.

At the proofreading level, your editor is focused on polishing your piece. This tends to be the last round of edits before you send it off for publication. Your editor will catch anything that was missed at the other levels – swapping out “your” for “you’re” and debating over the necessity of that oxford comma… Even if you write very clean copy or have gone over your story a gazillion times, it never hurts to let an editor take a proofreading pass at it.

Proofreading is where all those mistakes you’d never catch yourself can be corrected. It’ll help you avoid that moment – you know the moment, the one where you’re proudly reading your piece after it’s been published and you notice a typo and cringe so hard you can practically hear your spine crinkle. Yeah, that moment. It can be avoided by letting the Penmob editors swarm your piece one last time before you hit “SEND.”

What Else Do Editors Do?
These are the three basic levels of editing, but you can also consult with an editor about the direction you want to take your piece in, writing advice and big picture feedback. It’s completely up to you. Ready to get started? Join Penmob now.


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