Levels of Editing

Editorial services range from extensive reworking of a manuscript to final polishing. A typical manuscript undergoes three editing stages: developmental editing, substantive editing, and copyediting.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editors work with writers to develop a manuscript from an initial idea, outline, or draft – or all three. The first draft manuscript is then reworked and rewritten as the editor does research, gathers additional information, and suggests topics that might improve the overall piece. Developmental editors make suggestions about organization, content, and effective presentation, based upon analysis of factors such as market demand, competitive works, and the opinions of expert commentators.

Substantive Editing

Substantive editors (manuscript editors) work on completed manuscripts, reorganizing information, writing or rewriting portions of it, addressing wordiness, and resolving inconsistencies in logic, structure, and tone. Working closely with the author, the substantive editor may suggest formats for more effective communication, or identify areas where additional information is needed. Substantive editing strengthens the readability and flow of information, clarity, accuracy, and presentation of the piece. A manuscript edited for substance goes back to the client for final review.


Copyeditors revise manuscripts line by line. Depending upon the quality and complexity of the manuscript, this process can be light, medium, or heavy:

     Light Copyediting

  • Correcting faulty spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Correcting incorrect usage (such as can for may).
  • Checking specific cross-references, art, figures, tables, equations, and other features for consistency with their mention in the text.
  • Ensuring consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization.
  • A light copyedit does not involve interventions such as smoothing transitions or changing heads or text to ensure parallel structure. The editor checks content only to detect spots where copy is missing.

     Medium Copyediting

  • Performing all tasks for light copyediting.
  • Changing text and headings to achieve parallel structure.
  • Flagging inappropriate figures of speech, and ambiguous or incorrect statements.
  • Ensuring that key terms are handled consistently and that vocabulary lists and the index contain all the terms that meet criteria specified by the publisher.
  • Ensuring that previews, summaries, and end-of-chapter questions reflect content.
  • In fiction manuscripts, tracking the continuity of plot, setting, and character traits, and querying any discrepancies.
  • Enforcing consistent style, format, and tone (particularly in a multi-author manuscript).
  • Changing passive voice to active voice, if requested.

      Heavy Copyediting

  • Performing all tasks for medium copyediting.
  • Eliminating wordiness, triteness, and inappropriate jargon.
  • Smoothing transitions and moving sentences to improve readability.
  • Assigning new levels to heads to achieve logical structure.
  • Suggesting—and sometimes implementing—additions and deletions, noting them at the sentence and paragraph level.
  • Noting permissions needed to publish copyrighted material.
  • Preparing a manuscript for the next stage of the publication process.
  • The key differences between heavy and medium copyedits are the levels of judgment and rewriting involved. In a heavy copyedit, the editor improves the flow of text rather than simply ensuring correct usage and grammar; may suggest recasts rather than simply flagging problems; and may enforce a uniform level, tone, and focus as specified by the publisher or developmental editor.

 Production Editing

Production editors manage the process a manuscript goes through to become a publishable product. They keep the project moving by coordinating the services of the copyeditor, designer, artist, and proofreader to control quality, maintain the production deadline, and stay within budget.