The terms of copy editing and content editing are often confused. One is taken to mean the other, while at other times they are seen to suggest the same thing. In fact, they are two entirely different things. It is true that they are both editing, but the differences are significant. What are these differences?

Copy editing (or copyediting as it is also known by) is done by a copy editor, who checks a document or manuscript for capitalisation, spelling, verb tenses, punctuation, grammar, and other errors. It also involves checking for sentence structure, continuity, word choices, paragraph lengths, missed words, and so on. Copy editing, in other words, means checking of the language of the text and correcting when necessary.

But what if the content isn’t exactly right? If the writing on the manuscript is in perfectly grammatical English and the material still isn’t right, what then? Content editing is what you need.

Content editing (or developmental editing or substantive editing), means that a content editor checks the content of the manuscript. They check the content for contradictions, inconsistencies, and factual errors. If the content is fictional, they check for discrepancies in the plot, character, or dialogue. They also check whether the theme’s developed (hence developmental editing) correctly, or whether the subplots have been integrated well into the storyline, which means that the content editor checks the content intently.

Within the publishing industry, a manuscript should go to a content editor first, who then checks the content, and if there is a need, suggests changes to the writer. The writer, with the help of the content editor, then re-writes the parts that need adjustment. When the content editor is satisfied and sure that the text will grab the attention of the reader, the manuscript will then go to the copy editor. The same person could do the job of content editing and copy editing, but either way, the final stage is copy editing before the manuscript goes to print.

If an author’s writing is already polished and only needs a final check for occasional errors, then they require a proofreader. Proofreading is ideal if the author has a deadline looming and needs a last-minute check for mistakes. Or the manuscript has been through the final inspection from the copy editor and is about to be published. A proofreader makes a complete sweep for errors, including formatting problems, spelling, grammar, and inconsistencies that the copy editor may have missed. Proofreading could be done by the same person who copyedited the manuscript, or a different person entirely. Once the proofreader has checked the document for any errors, the author makes the necessary changes and then sends the completed manuscript to the publishers or printers.

What’s the difference between copy editing, content editing and proofreading?

Lynn's Editing & Proofreading Services