Substantive Editing, Copy Editing Or Proofreading?



Both beginner and experienced writers often wonder what differences (if any) there are between the various types of editing. Knowing the difference makes getting feedback on your writing easier when you know what exactly it is you need done. The publishing process is in different parts:

When a writer submits a manuscript, there are three stages of feedback:

  1. Substantive editing
  2. Copy editing
  3. Proofreading


Substantive Editing

Also known as developmental and structural editing, substantive editing involves reorganizing the content of the manuscript.  Substantive editors specialise in examining the overall structure and help with the organisation of the content. They help authors fill in blanks and eliminate repetitions. They may suggest that the chapters be rearranged. They are not concerned with grammar or spelling. Ultimately, the substantive editor’s job is to help the author deliver clear, coherent writing to the intended audience. Because it may involve large changes in the content, the substantive editor must work closely with the author. They begin by agreeing on clear goals and identifying the intended audience. Once the goals have been outlined and the audience identified, the substantive editor then works with the author to see the big picture and develop their story. It is important to note that substantive editors do not write or rewrite anything for the authors. They only advise them how best to rework their projects in order to deliver clear content.


Copy Editing

Once the substantive editor is done, the manuscript goes to the copy editor. The copy editor is primarily concerned with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style. Copy editors ensure proper word usage and fix awkward phrasing, suggesting alternatives when needed. Ultimately, the copy editor will ensure consistency and accuracy. Some projects require a heavy copy edit while others only need a light copy edit. If the writing is in pretty good shape, a light copy edit will suffice. Generally, copyediting will require going over the text multiple times



After the manuscript has been designed, proofs are sent to the proofreader who will go over everything one last time. It is up to the proofreader to spot typographical and mechanical errors and any other mistakes that may have been missed by the copy editor. The proofreader will also look for formatting issues, scrutinising design and layout. This is the last opportunity to make changes to a document before it goes to print. While it might not take as long as copy editing, it is just as important!

There you have it! Now you know can tell these three editing techniques apart.



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