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Unraveling the Editorial Mysteries, Part 2: Editing After the Writing

by Erin Brenner

In part one of this series, I explained the difference between an editor’s title and the tasks that person performs, and I outlined what a developmental editor does. In part two, I’ll look at the line editor’s, copyeditor’s, and proofreader’s roles.

The Line Editor

Once the writing is finished—the writer has told his story, feels the structure and argument are good, and is basically ready to hand over his labor of love to a publisher—it’s time to polish the piece. There will be an editor to look at the document on the whole and section by section, another editor to look at it at the sentence level, and still another to look at it letter by letter. Not all publishers or media take such care with copy, and not everyone is aware of all these levels.

If your copy is fortunate enough to be in a process that takes such care, your copy will go to a substantive, or line, editor next.

Again, titles abound and usually have nothing to do with job function: senior editor, editor, associate editor, and so on. However they are labeled, substantive editors look at the organization of the whole piece, structure, transitions (between chapters, sections, paragraphs, etc.), redundancies, jargon, sexist language, awkward constructions, excessive use of passive voice, wordiness, logic, tone, and so on. Substantive editors do not choose what goes into a publication.

The Copyeditor

The copyeditor takes on the document next. She’s looking at sentence order and structure, sentence and paragraph length (particularly if the piece is to be published online), grammar, word usage, punctuation, spelling, style, and anything else she’s been asked to watch out for.

If the editorial process doesn’t include a separate fact-checking phase, the copyeditor might fact-check as well. The list varies but generally includes names, addresses, phone numbers, URLs, dates, other numbers, and basic facts (e.g., President Obama is the 44th president of the US).

Plenty of print publishers still hire copyeditors, though this is an area hit hard by economic downturns and the digital revolution. When you need to cut back on something, you tend to skimp on the quality. And copyeditors ensure quality.

The Proofreader

Proofreaders are the end of the line, and they make sure the finished project is correct. Exactly how they do that depends on the type of proofreading they do. Traditional proofreading compares “dead copy” against “live copy,” that is they compare the last approved version of the piece against the new version and ensure they match and all changes have been incorporated.

Editorial proofreading skips the dead copy part. The proofreader must read—and correct—(“cold-read”) the latest version (hopefully the version that will actually publish but not always) of a document. She corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style.

In part three, I’ll wrap up our discussion on the different editing tasks in the publishing process.

This article originally appeared on The Writing Resource.