Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

A Beginner’s Guide to Editing

The Basics of Editing

Editing is a far more intricate process than most people know. The word “editing” often elicits thoughts of grammar, punctuation, and numerous revisions for technical perfection. While these are an important part of editing, they don’t encompass the entire process. The three main editing stages include:

  • Developmental editing
  • Copy editing (also known as line editing)
  • Proofreading

In some businesses, these stages are divided even further. As an independent author, you have the creative control to stick with the basic three. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or an amateur looking to gain some recognition, you should consider getting an editor; one who can do all three edits is the ideal, but naturally, you’ll have to work within your budget.

You can find freelance editors online who specialize in each type of editing, but most of them have experience in all three. Be sure to ask for some samples before you sign any contracts; you don’t want to pay someone for providing feedback you could get for free from the AI bot on Grammarly. One way to know if you’re getting quality work is to be aware of what each type of editing should include. By knowing what should be done in each stage, you have an idea if they are skipping steps or cutting corners. And, you can also gain an understanding on how to edit the draft  yourself, as needed.

Developmental Editing

As the name suggests, this involves the development of the actual content in the book. This step involves looking for places to expand on your points or trim down fluff; you can cut words and refine the sentences later, the goal now is to get all of the necessary information down on the page. Developmental editing also reviews the organization of the draft and ensures your key points actually support and defend your thesis. Voice, tone, chapter length, organization and pacing, and consistency are all elements to review in developmental editing.

This stage works best after you’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers; they bring up knowledge gaps that you, as an expert in your field, may not see. If you’re unsure how to address those gaps, a developmental editor can offer insight. Once your content is squared away, you can start copy editing your work.

Copy Editing or Line Editing

Some businesses separate these into two different levels of editing, but for the most part, they are used interchangeably, as we’ll do here. Copy editing involves going line-by-line to review the draft. There’s a duality of focus on the flow of the sentences, the clarity, and other ways to improve how the information is conveyed to the reader while also searching for mechanical errors such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling. To emphasize: this stage isn’t about creating new content (that’s in the developmental editing stage) but refining how the information is communicated. These edits happen at a paragraph, sentence, and word level to improve the readability. 

Some common problems to look for include showing vs telling, using the passive voice, eliminating awkward phrasing, and improving transitions between paragraphs and sections. This is arguably the most important stage to invest in a professional. You can look for gaps in your content with the help of beta readers and get input from colleagues, but this stage requires experience with writing and an extensive knowledge of language and grammar. Once you’ve had your draft thoroughly copyedited, you can move to the final stage, proofreading.


Proofreading is the final polish on your draft. At this stage, you’re looking to catch any typos or incorrect grammar. If you hired a professional copy editor, your draft is probably about 90%-95% error-free, but even professionals can miss things. Check any graphs, figures, and other media for errors in the captions and in-text references. This is the final passover of your draft before it’s published. If there are any mistakes in formatting or the layout, you should address them now before your work goes live.

I recommend actually listening to your draft through a text-to-speech conversione so you “hear” any issues that may have been overlooked on paper. It’s difficult to make changes after you format and publish your manuscript, so be thorough now!


As you can see, editing is more than just understanding grammar rules and finding typos. Each editing stage requires time and outside perspective in order to get the best version of your work to publication. If you can afford to hire an editor, their expertise in writing is well worth the investment. Otherwise, use free online resources such as Grammarly and your friends and family to get the feedback you need to develop your draft into a polished manuscript.

As an amateur writer, your first few books set the expectation of their quality, so you want them to be high quality. If you’re a seasoned author, then you already have a reputation to uphold. Whether it’s your first or fortieth time writing a book, always take the time to be thorough in the editing process.


Get In Touch