Copy Editing versus Content Editing

I have often been asked the difference between copy editing and content editing. Well, the difference is significant.

Copy editing (sometimes written as one word – copyediting), is checking a copy for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, verb tenses and other grammatical errors. It also involves checking for continuity, sentence structure, paragraph lengths, word choices, missed words, and the like. In other words, copy editing involves correcting the language of the text.

But what good is a copy written in perfect English, if the content isn’t right? This is where the content editor comes in.

Content editing (also called developmental editing or substantive editing), as the name implies, involves checking the content.  It checks the content for factual errors, contradictions, and inconsistencies. If the content is fictional, it checks for discrepancies in the plot, character, or dialogue. It checks whether the theme has been developed (hence developmental editing) properly, or whether the sub-plots have been well integrated into the story line. In other words, content editing evaluates the content in detail.

In the publishing industry, a manuscript first goes to a content editor who evaluates the content, and if there is the need, suggests changes to the writer. The writer, with the help of the content editor, then re-writes the parts that need change. Once the content editor is satisfied and sure that the text will grab the attention of the reader, the manuscript goes to the copy editor. Sometimes the same person does both the content editing and the copy editing, but in either case, copyediting is the final stage before the manuscript goes to print.

After you have completed your writing, try and do both the copy editing and content editing yourself. This will make your manuscript much more readable. However, do have an editor go through it later because you can’t really be objective to your own writing. Or can you?

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