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.

11 Common Editing and Typo Mistakes to Watch for in Your Own Book and How to Fix Them

Have you ever read a piece of writing, be it a book, article, or even a blog or social media post, that just leaves you shaking your head, wondering what the author was trying to say?

Don’t let this be you or your book!

From fragmented sentences and misspelled words, to lack of punctuation — good ideas getting lost in bad writing is an all-too-common occurrence nowadays.

It’s important to use correct grammar and spelling when writing your book so you can clearly get your message across while making the flow of the writing unobtrusive and easy to understand. Otherwise, you risk losing your reader altogether. And, if you don’t lose the reader, you at least risk them questioning your knowledge and expertise on the topic you’re writing about.

Always proofread your book, or any other piece of writing, with an eye to these 11 common mistakes that detract from your book’s message and potentially diminish your credibility as an author or expert in your field.

Mistake 1: Word Usage

English is actually a pretty tough language! One reason is the number of words that have multiple meanings with different sounds and spellings. It is quite common to get these words mixed up and use the wrong word or spelling in your writing.

For instance, consider:

  • “Your” vs. “you’re” — One is possessive, and the other is a contraction of the words “you” and “are.”
  • “To” vs. “too” vs. “two” — The first is a preposition while the second can mean “excessive” or “also,” and the last one refers to a number.
  • “There” vs. “their” vs. “they’re” — The first is a location, the second is a possessive word, and the last one again is a contraction of the words “they” and “are.”
  • “Accept” vs. “Except” — Accept means to consent to accept, agree, or come to believe something is valid. “Except” means to exclude. Examples: She accepted his behavior because she loved him. She would believe what he said except it was common for him to lie.

As you can see by these examples, word usage is very important as it can completely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say. It can confuse your reader or, at the very least, distract them from the flow of your writing.

There are certainly too many words like this to give every example, so when in doubt about the correct word and usage, try these helpful references from Inc., English Oxford Living Dictionaries, or Oxford Royale Academy.

Mistake 2: Punctuation

The use of proper punctuation really can make or break the meaning of what you’re trying to say. It helps readers know when to pause or stop and when a question is being asked, and keeps sentences from running altogether, which only creates confusion.

A couple of examples that went viral online not long ago shows the perfect reason correct punctuation is so important:

  • “Let’s eat, Grandpa!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandpa!”
  • “A woman, without her man, is nothing.” vs. “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

As you can see, the usage of simple commas completely change the meaning of the sentence!

Here are a few other examples of incorrect and correct punctuation to watch out for:

  • “Are you going to eat that.” vs. “Are you going to eat that?”
  • “Its fun to dream about my upcoming vacation.” vs. “It’s fun to dream about my upcoming vacation.”
  • “I love cooking my pets and my family.” vs. “I love cooking, my pets, and my family.”
  • “My mom likes cake. My dad likes pie.” vs. “My mom likes cake; my dad likes pie.” While both technically correct, using a semicolon allows you to take two similar sentences and make them into one while still keeping the flow.

Mistake 3: Tense Usage

The tense usage refers to past, present, and future in writing as it relates to your verb or action.

  • Past tense is, “Sarah ate the apple.”
  • Present tense is, “Sarah eats the apple.”
  • Future tense is, “Sarah will eat the apple.”

You wouldn’t write, “Peter sat (past tense) at the table. He waits (present tense) for her to show up and join him.” It would be, “Peter sat at the table and waited for her to show up to join him.”

You also wouldn’t write, “Peter sits (present tense) at the table waiting (present tense) for her to show up and join him. But she never arrived (past tense).” You might write instead, “Peter sits at the table waiting for her to show up to join him. But she isn’t arriving.”

When you’re editing your book, look for and highlight any inconsistent tense usage. No matter which tense you choose to use, keep all your verbs constant with that tense.

Mistake 4: Point of View

Point of view includes first person (I, talking about oneself), second person (you, as talking directly to the reader), and third person (he/she/they).

Once you’ve picked the appropriate point of view and written your book, you want to be sure you’ve maintained that point of view throughout the writing.

Look at your pronoun usage and make sure you aren’t combining several points of view together. If you are writing in the third person, you won’t want to slip into the first person or vice versa.

  • “I moved to California when I was 4 years old. He was so young he didn’t remember much about that move.”
  • “David was impressed by the size of the tractor. He had never seen one that big before. I was truly in awe of it.”

Mistake 5: Passive Voice

Most of us have heard, most likely from our high school English teachers, that we need to “show and not tell” in writing. But what exactly does that mean? What is passive voice writing?

It all comes down to weak vs. strong verbs.

Writing comes alive when you use strong verbs instead of weak or lazy verbs that need an adverb (words ending in “ly”) to help describe it. Also, using few adjectives – if any – and cutting out “to be” forms of verbs will make your writing stronger and more engaging.

Also, try writing your sentence in a different order. Most passive voice writing is based on the subject of your sentence having something done to it. To turn it into active voice, have your strong verbs coming from your subject instead.

Consider these examples:

  • “The treaty is being signed by the two leaders.” (passive)
  • “The two leaders are signing the treaty.” (active)
  • “The baby was delivered by the inexperienced doctor.” (passive voice with object, verb, subject sequence
  • “The inexperienced doctor delivered the baby.” (active voice with subject, verb, object sequence)

As you read through your book, highlight every adverb and adjective and then go back and replace them using stronger, move active, more compelling verbs. By doing this, you will find it takes care of removing the “to be” verb forms as well.

Mistake 6: Sentence Structure and Length

When editing, review how you structured your sentences. Keep an eye out not only for the correct punctuation but that you have all the correct parts to your sentence (specifically a subject/noun and an action/verb) to make it complete. Certainly, you can use fragmented sentences for emphasis or to make a point, but it needs to be done properly or you’ll just confuse your reader.

You’ll also want to edit your sentences for length and complexity. Make sure you have varied both shorter and longer sentences in your writing to create rhythm. Short of sentences can read choppy and too long of sentences can ramble on, both making it hard for your reader to follow your thought.

While there is no concrete rule to the actual number of words to have in your sentences, the length of them depends a lot on the type and style of your writing. For a more technical style, you’ll find sentences that are more complex and longer than say your online blog post or article. Online writing typically will use shorter sentences and smaller paragraphs. Nonfiction books will be different from those styles as well as from fiction.

In essence, what you’re going for is readability, rhythm, and flow.

Use this free online tool to check your own writing’s readability and get a report like this one:

Mistake 7: Repetition in Sentences and Paragraphs

How many of your sentences start with pronouns?

“He put his arm around her. She shrugged it off, feeling uncomfortable. He looked at her in irritation. She smiled and walked on ahead of him. He walked faster to catch up.”

When you start each sentence with a pronoun, one right after the other, your writing comes across as stilted and dull. And, you want your writing to sparkle!

As you edit your book, look for all your pronouns and see where you can vary your sentence structure to liven up your writing. There are many ways to start a sentence, whether with a pronoun (he/she/it), a proper noun (David/Kathy), or with a dependent clause (With the exception of pizza, Kathy never eats in bed.)

Switching up how you start your sentences will help readers better engage with your writing and make it even more interesting for you.

Mistake 8: Redundancy

While many readers may not catch redundancies in your writing, you can make your book and its message crisper and stronger to your audience by simply removing extra words that are redundant.  

What do I mean by redundant? Different than repetition in the previous mistake above, it is the use of excessive words that mean the same thing within your writing.

Look for wording like these examples:

  • “Her problem first began when he showed up at her door.” Better to write, “Her problem began when he showed up at her door.”
  • “It was the final outcome that caused her to collapse to her knees.” In this sentence, simply write “the outcome.”
  • “John asked her if they could collaborate together on the new project.” Collaborating is doing something together, so it would be better to write, “John asked her if they could collaborate on the new project.”
  • “The gunman was armed as he entered the bank.” If he was a gunman, then he was armed so there is no need to mention it.
  • “The ice was frozen to the middle of the pond.” Ice is always frozen so simply reword the sentence to take out the redundancy. It would be better to say something like, “The ice reached the middle of the pond.”

Certainly, there are many other redundancies that can be and are used that simply bog down otherwise good writing. Highlight these redundancies in your own writing and come back to tighten up your sentences to make them stronger.

Mistake 9: Singular Nouns/Plural Pronouns

Make sure you’re using the correct nouns and pronouns together. If you’re writing about a single subject you want to make sure you use a single pronoun with it.

This common mistake often occurs when a writer is trying to use a pronoun that isn’t gender-specific.

Instead of writing, “The client (singular) may get their (plural) ticket at the front entrance,” write “The client may pick up his or her ticket at the front entrance.” Or, if you’re writing about more than one client, you can word it as, “The clients (plural) may pick up their (plural) tickets at the front entrance.”

While it can be tedious to have to always write “his or her,” without a non-gender-specific pronoun in the English language you can write it as “his or her” for the singular pronoun or work to restructure your sentence so you eliminate the need to use a pronoun altogether, such as, “Clients may pick tickets up at the front entrance.”

Mistake 10: Inconsistencies in Presentation

Inconsistencies in presentation refer to how you refer to a word, phrase, or idea and present it within your book consistently.

As an example, if you are writing a book about Type 1 diabetes, which also could be written as Type 1 Diabetes; Type I Diabetes, Type One Diabetes, or juvenile diabetes), you want to use the same terminology each time you refer to it. If there several ways you can reference the idea or topic, then pick the most commonly used one and present it consistently within your writing.  

Mistake 11: Typos

It isn’t unusual to have typos in your manuscript, which is why it is so important to proofread your book several times before completion. Whether your fingers are just on the wrong keys or you type too fast, it’s common to see dropped letters, missing or misplaced apostrophes, and switched letters that your spellchecker or grammar program won’t find on its own. Oftentimes your typo will be a real word that you didn’t even intend to use.  

Read through your book at the editing stage to find these mistakes. Look for things like:

  • dropped letters such as “an” vs. “and” or “the” vs. “they”
  • missing apostrophes such as “its” vs. “it’s”
  • incorrect word usage such as “than” vs. “then”
  • wrong verb tense such as “choose” vs. “chose”
  • incorrect hyphenation such as “happily employed” vs. “happily employed”

Check out Online Writing Jobs for a handy infographic about catching typos.

Wrapping it Up

These 11 common editing and typo mistakes really can make or break your book. It is important to read over your writing with an eye to the rules of good writing and know that correcting these mistakes will make your book’s message clearer, stronger, and more authoritative.

As harsh as it may sound, your readers will judge your writing and you — your creditability and your expertise — based on how you write as much as by what you write. The importance of editing your book to correct such mistakes can’t be stressed enough, especially if you are using your book to grow your brand, build a business, or set yourself up as an expert in your field.

Don’t let sloppy writing, rushed editing, and easy-to-fix typos deflect from your message to your audience. If you’re unsure of how to properly edit your book for these things, hiring a professional editor is a good option to make your book as professional as possible.

Sans Forgetica: A Font To Help Readers Remember

As a general rule, we writers tend to favor fonts that are practical and easy to read. While Baskerville Old Face and Lucinda Calligraphy are fun, it is highly unlikely that you will ever see them printed in a book.

But what if we are doing it all wrong? What if the “easy” fonts such as Arial and Times New Roman are actually TOO easy?

Well, researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have discovered that fonts that are easy to read are also easy to forget.

This great article from Popular Science dives into the fascinating research that has been done on the topic and introduces the new font that was developed by typography professor, Stephen Banham, in order to help people remember more of what they read.

This new font, called Sans Forgetica, is more difficult to read—and therefore, forces the brain to focus more. As a result, the reader ends up remembering more of what is read.

And the best news? Sans Forgetica is now available online as a free download!

We provide white label content for marketing communication and PR agencies. In other words, we can function as a seamless extension of your in-house marketing and public relations staff. And if you’d prefer not to disclose that you’re using an outside copywriting firm, we’re okay with that.

High-Quality Copywriting for Marketing and PR Firms

Have a large, deadline-sensitive project on the horizon? Need extra creative juice for an upcoming campaign? Looking for copywriters with experience in niche fields or experience writing about very specific industries? The Writers For Hire can provide the necessary bandwidth to get the job done right.

Our writers are passionate about crafting compelling content for marketing, advertising, and public relations — and we’re ready to fall right into step with your team

Why Work With Us?

The Writers For Hire, Inc. has longstanding relationships with several local and national marketing and public relations firms, providing creative services for campaigns, product launches, editorial content, social media, tradeshows, and recruiting events.

Perhaps more importantly, though, our writers are professionals, which means:

  • We’ll treat your project like our own.
  • We keenly understand that the quality of our work and our customer service reflects on your organization.
  • We’ll meet your deadlines.
  • We can provide you with additional writers, editors, and proofreaders as needed.
  • We’ll listen when you and your clients provide feedback.
  • We don’t need hand-holding or extensive onboarding. Our writers will fall right into line with your firm’s processes and procedures.

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Concise Writing Cheat Sheet

“Vigorous writing is concise.”

-William Strunk Jr.

The writing tips resource section covers an abundant amount of information on clear and concise writing, but this “cheat sheet” proves useful when you need an answer quickly.

The following guidelines serve as a concise-writing overview. Print out our printer friendly version to keep on your desk or carry in your briefcase as a quick reference tool.

  1. Only repeat a word if it is necessary for clarity or emphasis.

    Original: My brother Chris, who is my only brother, graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in English.
    Edited: Chris, my only brother, earned an English Degree from the University of Houston.

  2. Avoid redundancy — using two or more words or phrases that mean essentially the same thing.

    Original: When I was a child, Mom made me completely finish all of my brussel sprouts.
    Edited: When I was a child, Mom made me finish all of my brussel sprouts.

  3. Avoid beginning sentences with “There is,” “There are,” “There were” or “There was.”

    Original:  There are over 12.7 billion people living in Zimbabwe.
    Edited:  Over 12.7 billion people live in Zimbabwe.

  4. Avoid using too many nouns in one sentence.

    Original: The cause of the plane crash hasn’t been determined by the government
    nor by the employees who work at the airline.
    Edited: Neither the government nor the airline employees have determined why the plane crashed.

  5. Remove adjective clauses, such as “who are,” “which was,” “that were” and “that was,” whenever possible.

    Original: Two movies have been made based on the book “Little Women”, which was
    written by Louisa May Alcott.
    Edited: Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women” is the basis of two movies.

  6. Use single adjectives or adverbs instead of prepositional phrases.

    Original: Most of the stores we visited were overpriced and snooty.
    Edited: We visited mostly overpriced, snooty stores.

  7. Replace “to be,” and all of its tenses, with active verbs.

    Original: Barry Manilow isn’t considered to be a musical genius by the majority of people.
    Edited: Most people don’t consider Barry Manilow a musical genius.

  8. Avoid using the phrase “the fact that.”

    Original: The fact that a dog scratches himself does not always mean he has fleas.<
    Edited: A dog scratching himself doesn’t always mean the has fleas.

  9. Don’t get sidetracked with verbs.

    Original:It is important that there be no discussing the test in the room designated for quiet studying.
    Edited: Don’t talk about the test in the quiet study room.