Different types of copy editing services

You hand your paper to a copy editor. What comes back to you is something that you hardly recognize as your own creation. “What the heck happened?” you ask, perhaps in more colorful language. Most likely, there was a mismatch between your expectations and the editor’s interpretation of what level of editing to apply to your writing.

Copy editing is a generic term often used interchangeably with proofreading, copywriting, or line editing. There are different types of copy editing services. Understanding the differences will help you pick the right level of service for your writing.

Three types of copy editing

There are three core styles of copy editing. We call them levels of editing. Each level delivers a different depth of editing service.

Level 1 – Proofreading

Editors will check grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, verb-tense consistency, pronouns, spacing, and formatting consistency. Don’t expect editors to make radical changes to your sentences or words because those services fall under the next level of copy editing. You can read more about proofreading here.

Level 2 – Copy editing

This is the most common interpretation of copy editing. In addition to the proofreading services in Level 1, copy editing focuses on the “five Cs” – writing that is clear, correct, concise, complete, and consistent. Editors will adjust sentence and paragraph structure, eliminate redundant words, replace repetitive words with synonyms, and substitute weak words, phrases, and sentences with powerful alternatives. Experienced editors will ensure your original tone remains intact. You can expect noticeable change to your original document and should be prepared to review the changes to ensure you are happy with them.

Professional editors will use a revision-tracking system, such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature, so you can see changes and quickly accept or reject them with the click of a button.

Level 3 – Substantive editing (also known as Line editing)

Editors will rewrite major portions of your document if this type of copy editing is requested. Most people who need this service need help writing the paper, not just editing. Level 3 is essentially developmental editing in that the editor rewrites your document with the intent of educating you on how to better write. Expect your work to change substantively. New content will be added if the editor feels arguments made in the body of the paper lack substance or need support. New references, citations, and research may also be added.

Substantive editing is time-consuming and expensive. It also demands extra time from the original author to ensure the editor’s changes hasn’t altered the intent or tone of the paper. Rewrites are often prone to the loss of the author’s original voice. It often takes multiple revisions to get everything right.

Plan your schedule and budget accordingly if this is the level of service you need.

Other attributes of copy editing

In addition to the types of copy editing mentioned above, some editors may specialize in other areas of the editing or publishing process.

Submission formatting. Sometimes a document is required to adhere to specific style or formatting guidelines. For example, books, magazines, trade journals, Kindle eBooks, and dissertations each have different requirements. Editors who specialize in publishing can guarantee your document is formatted correctly for the specific venue to which you will deliver.

Reference and citation formatting services focus on checking documentation and source attribution for orphans and errors. Editors will scour your document for factual claims and make sure you have presented a source. This helps you avoid ownership or copyright infringement. Special focus is also given to ensure style consistency with formats like APA, MLA, or the many others in use.

Glossary development is the compilation of a glossary of terms that are core to the document. The glossary can also include terms that are specific to a region, culture, or language, or words people do not use in everyday diction.

Table of contents and index development can be important aspects of lengthy documents, manuscripts, and dissertations. This work usually falls into a copy editor’s lap because it can only be done after final revisions have been made and accepted by the author.

Fact-checking has become a requirement for major literary works in today’s digital age. Because of our unprecedented access to both reliable and unreliable information, editors are tasked with ensuring references are legitimate, current, and void of controversy. Depending on your audience, the integrity of your document could be compromised if facts or quotes are tangled in controversy, cultural sensitivities, or political, moral, or ethical partisanship.

Fact-checking is tedious work with very high liability. Consequently, this service is usually very expensive and typically not included in most copy editing projects.