Many people aren’t sure what type of editing they need. Perhaps all they know is that they’re not ready to put their writing out into the world without someone else ensuring they have everything exactly right. Many terms are thrown about in the editing industry, and this can leave people confused. if you’re like most of us, you’ve wondered: What is copyediting vs. proofreading, and when would each be applicable?


For most people, copyediting is the type of editing that’s needed. Copyediting not only involves ensuring that grammar and punctuation are correct, but it can address larger issues of organization, coherence, and voice.

Not all copyediting is the same, though. There are two levels of copyediting: mechanical editing and substantive editing.

Mechanical editing is the type of editing most of us think of when we hear the term “editing.” Perhaps that’s because it’s similar to how our teachers edited our papers in school. This type of editing involves catching errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word choice. During this type of editing, an editor brings a written work into alignment with a chosen dictionary and style guide (often Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and AP style or the The Chicago Manual of Style).

Substantive editing is going to involve a bit more, such as reorganizing some of the text and making suggested rewrites to sentences to improve overall tone, clarity, and flow.

Telling an editor whether you want mechanical editing or substantive editing will help clarify the scope of your project. (Also, an editor can sometimes determine which type of copyediting you need after reviewing some of your pages.)

Developmental Editing

What’s developmental editing, then? Developmental editing is a much more intensive process than substantive editing, and it is normally reserved for books. This type of editing involves considering the overall vision and purpose of the publication and taking a deep dive into how it can be accomplished. It can involve reorganization and reimagining many aspects of the publication. A developmental editor, clearly, can be a wonderful ally for anyone writing a book. These editors, when needed, are the first stop before any copyediting happens.


The proofreading process is normally a last-stage review. A proofreader will review, for instance, the final draft that’s already been through an editing process and is laid out in a publishing platform. These publishing platforms can include WordPress, Adobe Acrobat, PowerPoint, Canva, or book publishing software.

A proofreader checks for layout and design issues and often compares an older version with a newer one to ensure the latest version includes all requested changes. A proofreader can use proofreaders’ marks on a hard copy or mark up a PDF, which can then be returned electronically.

The main thing to know about proofreading is that it’s the very last stop on the road to publication and it’s a process of double-checking for correctness, consistency, and proper formatting. Proofreaders are usually hired by publishing houses and organizations who create publications. Authors who self-publish also need proofreaders.

Figuring Out What You Need

It can be helpful to determine the answer to a few questions to know which level of editing you need:

  • Do you need just a simple review to correct grammar and punctuation? Maybe you need mechanical copyediting only.
  • Or, do you want to ensure the writing has the right overall tone and is written most effectively? Would it be helpful to have someone ensure your points are getting across with clarity and maximum impact? (Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that?) This might mean you’re needing substantive copyediting.
  • Also, what stage of the process are you in? Will you just need a final check right before it goes out the door to eliminate the chances of errors, or do you need guidance getting through the weeds? If you’ve got things ready to roll and all laid out, maybe you just need a quick proofread.

When you’ve become clear on all of that, you’ll be ready to approach an editor. An editor then can shepherd you through the process (hopefully with grace and compassion) until you have a beautiful final version that you’re happy with.

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Sydney Spencer