Brief Description Of The Many Styles Of Editing

Well, what can I say about copy editing, usually just called editing, as a field? I have been at the process of becoming an editor for well over the past 30 years, so I should have something worthwhile to say about it by now, I should think. But I won’t cover APA style or the use of the Chicago Manual or other such style manuals – I’ll just do a basic overview of the most common editing forms here.
Foundationally, editing is a much discredited but mostly honorable profession for writers and would-be writers who have a degree in English and enough experience generating copy to know what to look for in the spelling, grammar and syntax departments. That kind of editing is primarily called line editing, and it doesn’t entail much more than heavily proofreading and correcting copy so that it reads well, taking out redundancies and otherwise improving the “flow” while maintaining the original author’s “voice” throughout (vital to most ghost writing, which I will discuss later.)
Line editing is just one step down from color editing, which includes everything in line editing and then some – you want to now edit for how the content reads as a whole, but not in a generalized way as you would with content or developmental editing. You just need to “pep up” or otherwise alter the flavor, spicing (I use recipe references a lot), sophistication and overall tone of the piece you are color editing. The idea with this kind of editing is to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the experience, as well as to make the copy read in a more professional or sophisticated (sometimes, depending on the desired “voice,” in a less sophisticated or more typically familiar) tone.
The next step up in editing is a big one, and is in fact more rewriting than editing – content editing. This also includes developmental editing, although some think of them as two separate editing styles. Me, I tend to blend all of my editing styles with writing and ghost writing styles, although I try hard to maintain the original author’s voice every time. Anyway, content editing means reworking or sometimes only adding some content to the piece, while making sure it “fits in” to the original or desired writing style.
Reworking may mean a thorough rewrite of everything, or it may only mean some rearrangement, such as shuffling chapters around in order to improve things. The idea behind both content and developmental editing is to enhance and improve the piece, so that its overall structure is more sound, making it read from beginning to end in a better and improved manner. But content editing may not be quite as thorough as its “big brother,” developmental editing, which is the most thorough style of editing. Content editing is to developmental editing what re-frosting an already baked cake is to actually making a new cake with similar batter and completely baking it all over again.
When you developmentally edit, you work over a manuscript, rewriting nearly everything or at least what the client or publisher has requested as needed. If it’s your own manuscript, you are in effect rewriting your whole book to suit you or a publisher’s desires. You add some fresh material, but in greater amounts than in content editing, sometimes putting in new characters, whole chapters, new plot devices and scenes, reformatting the manuscript or screenplay, etc.
When you developmentally edit a screenplay or script (which is probably the most common work done on other people’s scripts), you are taking the whole thing in hand and doing it all over again, maybe in a whole new voice or angle of view. The same thing applies to any book manuscript or short story that requires serious developmental editing – working it over in a whole new image – while the ideas of the client still need to be paramount as you go about the editing process.
All in all, these many different styles of editing can be rearranged or blended into writing and rewriting as needed. Just remember that editing always entails more than mere proofreading – which involves checking for grammatical and syntactic errors and correcting them. Line editing is the first step above proofreading; all editing inherently includes basic proofreading, although the latter can be performed separately by someone else, such as when professional proofreading is requested and a “second set of eyes” is needed to check over the final piece before publication.
The most important thing to remember when copy editing other people’s work is to keep to their voices as much as possible, or at least as much as desired by the client. Editing is a practical process that almost anyone can do, if they know spelling, grammar and syntax rules, but it takes a real professional to proficiently rework and manage an entire manuscript or screenplay expertly and with a touch of true style.

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