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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How to Improve Your Self-Editing Skills

editMost writers go through the process of revising their work before submission. This practice of reviewing your own work with an impersonal eye and objectively assessing it is known as self-editing. Not an easy endeavor, considering the fact that you have put in a lot of hard work and wakeful hours into that writing. To find your own mistakes and to see if you have really written what you had meant to write isn’t an easy job. So, how can you simplify this process?

Fortunately, there are a few ways of improving your self-editing skills.

1. Give some time between the writing and the editing. Don’t start editing your work the same day that you have finished writing it. Put it aside for a few days before going back to it. If you start revising the same day, you won’t be able to find any mistakes because everything that you have written is still fresh in your mind. You’ll then only be reading what you have written and not what you had meant to write. The more time you let it sit, the more errors you’re likely to find.

2. Print out your work and do the editing on hard copy. This helps in two ways: One, you’ll be reading it in a different format and in a different place than you have written it. This gives a new perspective to the writing. Two, errors tend to get skipped over on the screen, but not on a hard copy.

3. Read your work aloud. When you read out loud, you hear the words and the sentences; and hearing them is what helps you find the errors.

4. Resist the urge to make corrections during your first read. Just make notes in the margin and continue reading. Do the editing during the second read. This is because your first instincts are generally correct, and if you make changes the first time, you might later find your first words to be correct. It is, therefore, best to leave the actual changing for later in order to avoid wear and tear as well as waste of time.

5. Always edit in two steps. First, look at your choice of words – Have you used appropriate words? Are your words descriptive enough? Could you have used stronger verbs? Think along these lines and make these changes first if there is need to. Once this is done, go back and proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Editing in steps is always better because if you do it all together, your mind is working on many different things at the same time, thus missing out on certain errors.

We are all different and we have our own ways of working. Is your style of self-editing different? How do you do it?

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Difference between Editing and Proofreading

My experience of many years has taught me to always confirm with clients what exactly they require when they ask me to edit or proofread a text. This is because many people take them to mean the same thing and use them interchangeably. True, the two are closely related, but there are some basic differences between editing (sometimes referred to as ‘copyediting’) and proofreading.

Editing is assessing the quality of writing. It corrects the structural problems and brings style to the writing, pencil4sometimes by re-writing certain sections or paragraphs. It also corrects ambiguity, inappropriate use of words, tone, voice, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Proofreading is correcting the text to make it sound right, without making major changes to it. Proofreading involves correcting typos, grammar, punctuation, spelling, misuse of words, and other minor inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

You may have noticed that editing involves proofreading plus a lot more.

‘Whereas proofreading is technical, editing is creativity.’ Do you agree with this statement?


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