What Kind of Editing Do I Need?

“Can you edit this?”

It’s arguably one of the vaguest requests heard in the world of editing and publishing.

That’s because there are multiple types of editing, and they often mean something very different to each party in the editing relationship – the writer and the editor.

A basic Internet search of “types of editing” can send you into a flurry of terminology controversies and confusion.

As an example, the Grammarly blog breaks apart developmental and substantive editing into separate definitions, while the Institute of Professional Editors uses another term for developmental editing (structural editing), and lumps substantive editing into that category.

The list goes on and on.

The growing popularity of self-publishing, has only served to contribute to the confusion.

Whether you’re an author seeking to self-publish a book or a corporate communicator finalizing a marketing brochure, determining what level of editing your project needs and effectively communicating expectations to your editor is key to a satisfactory process and end result, says Wintress Odom, owner and editor-in-chief at The Writers for Hire.

“I cannot tell you how many times we get a piece of copy and are asked to, ‘Just proofread it,’ or, ‘Please edit this,’” Odom says. “Most of the time, our clients have a very specific idea of what this means to them, but a lot of people don’t realize that those terms are used vastly differently by different people, so you really have to clarify, or you could get something back from an editor that was not what you expected at all.”

So how do you, as a writer, navigate the editing portion of the process to achieve your desired result?

Let’s explore the types of editing, consider overlapping terminology, and look at some ways to ensure you get what you want out of your editor.

Editing and Proofreading Are Very Different

First, let’s clear up some editing basics.

Editing is a process that shapes and modifies your manuscript or piece of copy to prepare it for publishing.

This can mean many different things, as we will go into below, but it typically involves fundamental changes to aspects such as flow, grammar and consistency.

This can mean many different things, as we will go into below, but it typically involves fundamental changes to aspects such as flow, grammar and consistency.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is a final step to review your copy as it will be printed, with the intent of catching any mistakes that may have been made during editing.

While proofreading is considered part of the overall editing process, having your piece proofread is not the same as having it edited.

Levels in the Editing Process

Most editing authorities use somewhere between three and five levels of editing, including proofreading as a final step in the process.

Let’s review the main categories and some of the terminology you may encounter.

1. Developmental editing

Developmental editing (also often called structural and substantive editing) is the most intense level of editing and could involve vigorous rewriting, so you may also see terms such as heavy editing or content editing used. This is a bigger-picture overhaul of your manuscript for style, structure and flow.

For nonfiction, you need developmental editing if your material is lacking logical flow.  In fiction, you may need developmental editing if you need assistance improving plot and/or character development.  Developmental editing will typically include reworking:

  • Book organization and topic flow.
  • Big-picture transitions.
  • Overarching stylistic choices.
  • Plotline and characterization (fiction).

2. Line editing

Line editing is sometimes lumped in with copy editing below, but it’s a more detailed, sentence-by-sentence edit.

Line editing isn’t focused on the big-picture aspects of the book as in developmental editing, but it may include sentence rewording to address areas such as:

  • Flow or pacing issues.
  • Removal of sections that may not fit.
  • Improving sentence content, style and voice.

3. Copy editing

Copy editing is also a sentence-by-sentence edit, but more technical in nature, focusing on cleaning up your copy to prepare it for publishing. If you are happy with the organization and flow of your piece and think it is ready for technical polishing such as grammar and punctuation, this may be the right level of editing for you.

Not all editors agree on what copyediting entails, but common services might include fixing:

  • Errors and inconsistencies in style (like the Oxford comma or hyphenation consistency)
  • Errors in dates, URLs, page numbers or other pertinent details.
  • Repeated facts.
  • Internal contradictions within the piece.

4. Proofreading

If you speak to a writer, proofreading often includes fixing typos and grammatical errors, as well as all or several of the items listen in copy editing (above).

However for a publisher, proofreading is very different.  Proofreading for publishers occurs only after final layout, and is intended to catch any errors made during the layout process, such as:

  • Missing words or sentences.
  • Odd line breaks or picture formatting.
  • Missing pages or page numbers.

Determining Which Level You Need

As you can see, even within these four categories, there are many overlapping and interchangeably used terms within these levels, and your editor may break them down differently.

In his work with indie authors, Friedlander finds it useful to simplify by dividing editing into two areas of need – the information and the copy.

“If you think your book has problems with the way it flows, it isn’t quite complete and you’re not sure how it compares to other similar books … in the market, then consult with a developmental editor about what you need to shape your book,” he says. “If you’re already over that part, you know what should be in the book, you’ve written books before and you’re satisfied with the way the information flows, then talk to your editor about preparing the book for publication with a copy edit.”

Odom agrees that a consultation with your editor detailing your needs is the best approach.

The key is understanding the general terms out there, and clarifying what that means to your editor as it relates to your specific project.

To help guide your conversation, Odom recommends asking yourself these questions:

  1. What are my goals with the editing process?
  2. What are my biggest concerns?
  3. Am I happy with the book’s overall chapter organization?
  4. Does the logical flow need help (i.e. does it make sense)?
  5. Does the stylistic flow need help (i.e. is it clunky to read)?
  6. Am I comfortable with an editor rewriting large portions of my manuscript?
  7. Would I prefer that the editor stick to fixing egregious errors, leaving the manuscript essentially as-is?
  8. Do I want my editor to fix style inconsistences (such as writing out numbers or consistency in capitalization choices)?
  9. Does the editor need to fact check for me? If so, what types of facts (e.g. spellings of places, historical dates, specific magazine quotes)?

It is true that the editing process can be confusing.

With an understanding of the nuances and variants that go into editing, though, you can arm yourself with the necessary tools to make the relationship with your editor a successful one.

This will, in turn, result in a more successful outcome for your project.

The Writers Behind Your Fortune Cookie Aphorism

It may come as a surprise to you that fortune cookies are not actually a Chinese invention.

While their true origins are widely debated, it is a common belief that the first fortune cookies appeared in California sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

The real question is, though, who is behind the messages on those tiny pieces of paper hidden inside of the cookies? Is it some kind of all-knowing psychic?

According to this fascinating article from Mentalfloss, many fortune cookie companies actually rely on the wits and poetic words of freelance writers to come up with the witty sayings inside those sweet treats.

In fact, several successful authors actually got their start writing fortune cookie messages!

Don’t be fooled by those seemingly simple prophetic one-liners, though. While writing them may seem like an easy gig, it actually takes quite a bit of talent.

After all, the messages must appeal to a wide global audience, while not being overly specific or scandalous. (Nobody wants to crack open a cookie, only to read that they are going to lose their job or go break their neck!)

So, next time you get Chinese take-out, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the talent and thought that went into your cookie’s fortune.

Five Common Web Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Web copy can be tricky to master: It has to sell, but it can’t feel too salesy. It has to be packed with useful, relevant information, but it needs to be succinct and easy to scan. It has to differentiate your company, product, or service — but at the same time, it can’t feel like it’s “all about you.”

We’ve found that there are a few common web writing mistakes that come up again and again with web copy. In this post, we’ll explore five of the most common ones — and share our strategies for avoiding them.  

  1. Mistake 1: Ignoring navigation

    It’s tempting to treat content and layout as two separate things, but we’ve found that the most effective websites begin with an integrated approach. When you have a solid grasp of your site’s navigation and layout, you’re better equipped to write content that fits into that navigation in an intuitive, seamless way.

    A few questions to consider:

    How will visitors navigate your site?
    What information will they be looking for on each page?
    How can you ensure that visitors can find what they need easily?
    Will your most important copy points appear “above the fold”?
    Can you use design elements like callout boxes and sidebars to highlight key points?
    Is your copy broken up in a logical way?
    Do you have too many pages? Too few pages?
    What action do you want people to take after scanning the page?

  2. Mistake 2: Super-long copy 

    Good web writing should tell your customers what they want to know in the first two sentences. Remember, website visitors come to a site to gather information. If they have to read paragraphs of unnecessary fluff to get to the “meat” of your product or service, they’ll probably move on.

    Here’s an example:

    “You need a car to get you to work. You need a car to take your kids to school, for trips to the grocery store, and for epic road trip adventures. You need a car to live your life – but you don’t need to pay top dollar for it. That’s why Two Brothers Used Cars specializes in certified pre-owned vehicles – guaranteed to save you money.”

    The above paragraph is long and meandering, and it wastes valuable real estate stating the obvious: Your readers already know why they need a used car. They want to know why they should buy a used car from Two Brothers Used Cars.

    Here’s a better option:

    “Two Brothers Used Auto has thousands of pre-owned vehicles at wholesale prices. Reliable. Affordable. And all used cars come with a year-long free maintenance package. Come take a test drive today.”

    Our advice: Resist the urge to “ease” in to your copy. Jump in, be bold, and get right to the point — your readers will appreciate it!

  3. Mistake 3: The “Wall of text”

    People read differently on a screen than they do on a printed page – their eyes flit around the page, scanning for information. Copy that appears too dense — also known as the dreaded “wall of text” can be a turnoff.

    In fact, if your web copy looks too dense, readers will likely give up and move on.

    Here are some ways to break down those “walls” and make your copy more scannable and web-friendly:

    Use bullets to highlight important points.
    Use bolded headers.
    Break up paragraphs (limit each paragraph to three to five sentences, max)
    Use visuals like infographics, tables, or photos
    Use callout boxes and sidebars to highlight information
    Use lots of white space
    Insert links to relevant pages

  4. Mistake 4: Wordiness and fluff

    One way to keep web copy succinct: Avoid filler fluff and unnecessary words. Some hard-nosed editing can help streamline your copy. Scan your draft with these questions in mind:

    Is there a single, better word that you can substitute for two words? For example, you could use “boring” instead of “not interesting.” You could use “to” instead of the wordier “in order to.”

    Can you eliminate any fluffy, meaningless phrases? Don’t tell readers that your sales team is “committed to excellence” or “dedicated to success.” It’s much better to say something meaningful, like the fact that your sales team has a combined three decades of experience or has completed hundreds of hours of advanced training.



  5. Mistake 5: Showcasing features, not benefits

    Emphasizing the benefits of your product or service is more important than emphasizing features – that’s because benefits persuade, features only inform. Benefits are relevant to customers, features aren’t.

    For example, let’s say your company sells high-end wristwatches: Details like “illuminated dial,” “digital alarm,” and “solar-powered battery” are features. But why should a potential customer care? This is where the benefits come in: The illuminated dial means you can tell the time in the dark. The solar power means that you never have to replace a battery. The digital alarm means that it can pull double duty as an alarm clock or a stopwatch.  

“Poring” vs. “Pouring”: What’s the Difference?

This question came up during a round of in-house editing this week, so – of course –I wanted to share:

Complete this sentence:  I spent hours  _______ over the pages of the magazine.

A.)   poring

B.)   pouring

The correct answer is A, “poring.”

“Pore” means to study or read something with great care.  You’d pore over a textbook or a website; you could even pore over the details of an especially interesting dream you had the night before. Continue reading ““Poring” vs. “Pouring”: What’s the Difference?”

AP: Goodbye “Web site;” Hello “Website”

Good news for all word nerds: The Associated Press has finally made the switch from the old-fashioned “Web site” to the simpler, more natural-looking “website.” Yay!

To me, “Web site” has always seemed a little stuffy and English teacher-ish. Good for AP to know when it’s time to change things up. According to the AP’s Web site – er, website – the change will be included in the 2010 print edition of the style guide.

Other recent changes in AP style:

Update: When used as a verb, “carpool” is one word (it’s still two words if used as a noun, though).
Addition: The noun “e-reader” has been added – due to the recent deluge of gadgets like the Kindle and the iPad. Also acceptable: “e-book reader.”
Update: The word “mic” is now an acceptable (informal) form of “microphone.”
Addition: When talking about a certain angry hybrid of ultra-testosterone-fueled cage fighting, the correct term is “mixed martial arts” (this one surprised me; I expected a hyphen in there somewhere). No word on whether “MMA” is an acceptable substitute – but AP cautions that “Ultimate Fighting” is not to be used as a substitute (it’s actually a registered trademark).


Image via Wikipedia

So, what do you think? Are you happy to see the AP change with the times? Are there other changes you’d like to see?

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Killer Tips for Streamlining Your Copy, Part 2

As promised, here’s the second installment of my series on packing more punch into your prose. In Part 1, we talked about using strong verbs, ditching the adverbs, and the benefits of active sentences. Those are essential points to keep in mind if you want to inject some life into your writing.

So, this week, I thought I’d share two more of my favorite writing tips. Enjoy! Continue reading “Killer Tips for Streamlining Your Copy, Part 2”

How to measure the results of your SMM campaign.

With all the push for businesses to invest in and create social media marketing campaigns, more and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon. And this is definitely a good thing. But there is a common misconception that a social media marketing campaign can yield highly scalable results in a short period of time. Yet this is something that needs major clarification.

The fact is, it’s just not feasible to completely quantify the results of your social media marketing campaign.

It’s an issue that www.doshdosh.com draws attention to in this blog about ROI and social media. The blog explores the benefits of social media marketing, and how to use it to your advantage. But most importantly, it says that the results of your SMM efforts are “not direct and immediate.”

What does this mean? Social media marketing is a great tool when used properly – it just takes a little time and TLC before the results can be seen. To some degree, results can be measured by paying attention to the number of hits to your websites from social profiles, social bookmarking sites, forums, and other sites where you are connecting to your audience through SMM.

However, the difficult part to measure is the “general PR effect” of your campaign – meaning you have no way of knowing who passes your information around or who remembered your brand name weeks later after reading a cool article on Digg. Unfortunately, without personally tracking each customer down and insisting they tell you exactly how your social media marketing campaign has affected them, it’s hard to get true tracking on your campaign.

So what do you do?
Even though collecting complete stats for your SMM campaign can be tricky, you can still get a good feel for what’s working. First, you need dedicate yourself to giving each SMM tactic a good run. Keep at it. Since your campaign typically won’t start a buzz overnight, push your campaign hard for six months to a year. Keep your social profiles updated, post blogs often, respond to any feedback you get, and build as many relationships as you can. The longer you push, the more of a presence you will create in the industry. Establish your brand in every way you can then “measure” which of your techniques are working best.

After a year, you should be able to concentrate on the areas that are drawing the most attention. If your online articles are getting tons of feedback, devote your time to writing more of them. If people are swarming to your LinkedIn profile, keep on connecting with them. Maximize your time and campaign by focusing on the marketing outlets that are specifically working for you, and you’re likely to watch your clientele grow immensely.

Not ending sentences with prepositions is an antiquated rule of which we want to get rid.

That was annoying, right?

I’m not normally one for change, but I am all for the evolution of grammar rules. We don’t all need to talk like our third-grade English teachers.

Most of the outdated rules have gone the way of the dinosaur, but there are a few stragglers. One in particular that keeps lingering is the rule against ending sentences with prepositions. The title of this blog post is an exaggeration of course, but even in other, more casual instances, writers still balk at sentences ending in prepositions.

In most instances, it can actually enhance your writing to go ahead and close with the preposition, especially in cases where you’re trying to sound less formal. Most of the time, by trying to avoid ending with a preposition, the sentence gets really convoluted and unnatural.

Let’s look at this familiar little adage:

There’s nowhere to go but up.

“Up” is a preposition, which means that every American textbook from the 1940s would decry it. So let’s try it this way:

Up is the only direction one can go.

Wow. If that had been the saying, it probably wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to become a cliché.

There’s just no reason to detract from your stellar sentence structure just to keep your old English teachers happy. Go ahead – try it out. Unless you’re writing in the most formal of tones – or if you’re writing for someone that might pick you apart for doing it – ending with prepositions can only take the level of your writing up.

Change-ups: Not just for baseball anymore

Varying sentence length in your writing sets a lot more than the tone or rhythm. It allows you to set up and emphasize points.

Consider this:

Many people consider New York a place they’d rather visit than reside in because of its reputation as being the city that never sleeps. New York, however, is a vibrant city divided into boroughs that are all cities within themselves. There’s something for everyone in this expansive city.

Meh. It’s pretty bland – not only because of its weak word choices, but because the sentences are all roughly the same length. Its dull tone becomes lulling. Most people, including the author, wouldn’t think twice to skip it.

Let’s try this:

New York. The city that never sleeps. Outsiders may find it difficult to image living in the middle of the bustling Big Apple. But who wouldn’t want to live in a city that houses beaches, historical monuments, and stellar shopping?

I picked a pretty boring subject matter on purpose to illustrate just how crucial varying sentence lengths could be. Once I captured the reader’s attention with a short sentence, I gradually increased my sentence length to encourage the reader to keep reading. I broke up two longer sentences with a shorter one.

There’s no pattern or set of rules to follow, but you should always keep in mind the basics. You don’t want to write only in short sentences or they lose their punch and become disruptive to the reader. Use longer sentences to establish tone and comfort, or to inform readers about something.

By varying the lengths of your sentences, your audience will pick up on all the nuances that you’ve poured into your writing. It just makes reading more fun.