The different types of proofreading and editing

It doesn’t take years in this industry to figure out that all too often, when you’re asked to proofread something, it’s not actually a proof it needs. What people mean most of the time is that they need line or copyediting. Then there’s developmental editing, which you’ll mostly come across in manuscripts, generally for non-fiction but that’s not a hard and fast rule.

While it’s not especially important that your clients know the difference here, editors of all experience levels should. Each type of editing requires a different level of work and comes with its own timescale, cost, and focus, so let’s dive in and get to know them a little better.

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Developmental editing

This is also known as structural or story editing, and helps to shape a manuscript, usually a novel. This means everything from plot and story arc to overall structure, pace, characters, narrator, tense, and genre. As you make your way through the copy, ask yourself: does this deliver what the reader wants?

Ask yourself: does this deliver what the reader wants?

Consider this a test drive for the story, with the editor in the driver’s seat charged with making sure readers will want to keep turning the pages. Oh, and with developmental editing, any tracked changes are saved to the file for the client or author to review.


Also known as manuscript evaluation or manuscript review, a critique looks at a work—whether that’s a novel, short story, or collection of essays—in its entirety.

Think of this as a stripped back developmental edit; you’re looking at the work as a whole, and providing general feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the writing. While no changes are made to the file, editors here will provide some action points for the author to apply when preparing their next draft.

Sensitivity reading

A specialised style of critique that provides authors with a report on the representation of marginalised groups or groups that the author themselves is not a part of. A sensitivity reader (also known as a diversity reader) looks for any biased, flawed, or potentially harmful language and characterisations, including the way these identities are represented—or mis-represented—across race, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic class, culture, mental health, disability, political beliefs and so on.

You can also bring in a sensitivity reader to check for accuracy and authenticity surrounding sensitive issues like trauma and abuse, poverty, violence, and mental health.


This is where you really get stuck into a text and focus on the details, making sure everything is not only correct and clear, but complete. Everything from spelling to grammar, punctuation, accuracy and logic is checked and corrected, so that the reader can make their way through the text without being thrown off course, and so that the story doesn’t lose pace. You’ll also keep an eye out for niggling things like double spaces and formatting inconsistencies to make sure the document is as clean as can be.

Here, a style sheet or style guide isn’t just your best friend but your soulmate. This type of document will outline things like language choice (E.g. UK versus US English), -ize/-ise spellings, hyphenation, and capitalisation rules, to name just a few examples. Consistency is key, and a style sheet sets out exactly what conventions your client follows and therefore dictates the kind of corrections you should be making to the text.

But what if your client doesn’t have a style guide already in place? If there is no house style guide, check to see if they follow a standardised guide like the APA, MHRA, or Harvard style referencing. At the very least, settle on what kind of language is preferred and if there are any particular conventions you need to follow based on your client’s existing content and brand guidelines. And if your client wants their own in-house style guide, you could even work together to create that as a separate project.

Copyediting is generally done at the same time as line editing, which we’ll cover in the next point, but the latter basically involves making sure the text reads well and doesn’t distract the reader from what’s being said.

How long does copyediting take?

The amount of time it takes to copyedit a text depends on its difficulty, complexity, and of course length. On average, for a relatively straightforward piece of copy, an experienced editor can get through 1,000 to 3,000 words per hour. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that copyeditors need to take breaks to stay focused and efficient as they work, and this should factor in to any deadlines set.

Line editing

Line editing is where we check for sense and flow, smooth things out and polish everything up one line at a time so every page is positively spotless by the end of it. Sense and flow are a vital part of driving the story—and your reader—forward, so it’s important to only say what needs to be said and do away with anything that might slow things down or distract unnecessarily.

Line-level critique

When you’re doing line-level critique, no edits are made to the file itself, but you do provide a report highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the writing on sentence level. Examples from the work itself will be used here to help illustrate the editors feedback, which would cover things like how to improve flow, pace, readability, grammar and punctuation, spelling, and layout.

This is a more simplified version of a line edit, and is a more cost-effective option for a client looking to make revisions themselves with more general guidance from a professional.


This is the equivalent of checking for your phone, wallet, and keys before leaving home. At this stage, you’re looking at nothing more than literal errors and any issues with layout or logic that need to be flagged before the copy gets published. There might be the odd T left to cross and some Is to dot, and the editing round may have introduced new errors to the copy, but this stage is all about quality control.

At this stage, you’re looking at nothing more than literal errors and any issues with layout or logic.

I personally love the proofreading stage because you’re taking the sum total of someone’s hard work and polishing it so it can shine. There’s something satisfying about being the one trusted to give the work that final seal of approval before it goes out the door.

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