top of page

What Are the Four Stages of Editing?

Thinking of hiring an editor?

You wouldn’t make a major purchase without becoming a bit of an expert on the topic yourself, so you shouldn’t hire an editor without first learning some editing basics.

Learning the lingo is essential to getting on the same page with the editor you want to work with, and to figure out what services you want and what rates to expect. If you write a lot, it’s useful to know these editing stages and apply them when checking your work! Here are the four main stages of editing.

Structural Editing

Structural editing: also called substantive editing, developmental editing, content editing, and manuscript editing.

This editing stage is like deciding where you’re going to place every box and piece of furniture on move-in day. It’s big-decision time.

Your editor will step back with you and look at your project from a big picture perspective. Recommendations are given and decisions are made about how to organize and revise your ideas. It’s like deciding which rooms you’ll be placing your belongings in. You may need to throw out some things that no longer suit your new home and make a list of things you still need to buy.

The editor will make a list of changes for the writer. These structural edits may include:

  1. revising, reordering, cutting, or expanding material

  2. recasting or revising material for another project or medium (such as taking parts of a book to use for a video or web copy)

  3. expanding or writing original material

  4. clarifying the plot, characters, or thematic elements (for a novel or short story)

  5. deciding if permissions are necessary when using facts, data, or quotes from third-party material

  6. creating an outline if one hasn’t already been made

  7. ensuring that content, language, and style suit the audience and purpose of the material

When this stage of editing is completed, your project is ready for a stylistic edit.

Photo Credit: Rodnae Productions

Stylistic Editing

Stylistic editing: also called line editing and may include copy editing.

Stylistic editing is similar to making a sandwich. Most people have a concept of what goes into a basic sandwich but have different opinions about the details. Should the sandwich have many toppings or just a few? What condiments will give it a spicy or salty flavour?

Making a sandwich is like a stylistic edit. Different toppings can affect the flavour (mood and tone) of what you create. The editor clarifies meaning, checks for coherence and flow, and fine-tunes the language. This stage includes:

  1. editing and adjusting the order and length of paragraphs and sentences

  2. establishing the style, tone, mood, voice, and level of formality of the material

  3. maintaining the language level appropriate for the intended readership, purpose, and medium (blog, novel, white paper, or report)

  4. checking for cliches, euphemisms, and jargon (jargon in technical material should be defined somewhere in the text)

After a stylistic edit is complete, your project is ready for a copy edit.

Photo Credit: The Matter of Food

Copy Editing

Copy editing: also loosely includes stylistic editing, structural editing, fact-checking, and proofreading.

A copy editor focuses on details: accuracy, consistency, completeness, and correctness.

In this sense, copyediting is similar to scrutinizing a painting with meticulous precision. It’s like noticing the brushstrokes, the colours, and the layers. You’re looking at details in a person’s face or the veins in each leaf of trees!

Copyediting is about precision and cohesion and includes:

  1. developing a style sheet or following one that is provided

  2. editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage

  3. checking for consistency and continuity of mechanics and facts (a character’s age and eye colour are consistent throughout the story, the same font and style is used for all tables and charts)

  4. editing tables, figures, and lists (and sometimes indexes)

  5. correcting or querying information that should be checked for accuracy

  6. checking front matter, back matter, cover copy, and web links

  7. obtaining or listing permissions needed

  8. checking for consistency for localizing language (Canadian spelling for a Canadian audience, converting to Imperial measurements for an American audience)

Copyediting doesn’t involve any heavy rewriting or heavy reorganizing of material. You are taking your work and putting it under the microscope. At this stage, it’s about the details. When the copyediting is complete, your project is ready for layout and proofreading.

Photo Credit: Una Laurencic


Proofreading is done after editing. At this stage, you’re checking that the material is ready for publishing. Often “proofreading” is a term used to describe any editing or is another name for copyediting.

Think of proofreading as that quick check in the mirror that you do before you go out: Hair looks good. Nothing in your teeth. Shoes match the outfit. Phone, check. Keys, check. Wallet, check. You’re good to go.

At this point, you’re not going to redo your makeup, change your shirt, or (gasp) change into a whole new outfit.

At this stage, the editor checks the material – after layout is completed – for errors in textual and visual elements. The material may be checked against the original or previous version. When editing for online copy, proofreading is the final stage before you hit the publish button. This stage includes:

  1. checking all elements of the document are in proper order

  2. changes have been made and amendments have been inserted

  3. checking for minor mechanical errors (such as spelling and punctuation mistakes)

  4. consistency and accuracy of elements in the material (such as cross-references, headings, captions, and hyperlinks)

  5. adherence to design (consistency in font style and colour)

Proofreading doesn’t involve any heavy editing or rewriting. It’s the final check before you head out the door – before you hit the publish button or send the material off of the publisher for printing.

Proofreading is also the most exciting stage! After all your hard work (both the writer’s and the editor’s), your project is ready to share with your readers.

Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio

Bottom Line

Understanding the four major stages of editing is crucial when you’re ready to work with an editor. Becoming familiar with the jargon and what happens at each stage prepares you for what revisions to expect. These stages are also a great checklist for reviewing your written work before sharing it with your audience.

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the next post!

0 views0 comments


bottom of page