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The Different Levels of Editing

A guide to choosing the right level of editing for non-fiction writing

Choosing the right level of editing for your work can feel overwhelming, especially when there are a few different types of editing out there. 

In this post, we’ll go over four main levels of editing: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

There are two things to keep in mind before we start:

  1. Editing terminology can vary. For example, while one editor might call editing of big-picture elements ‘developmental’ editing, another could call it ‘structural’ or ‘substantive’ editing. Before working with your editor, it’s important to clarify the scope of work, since the offerings may vary slightly from one another.

  2. No matter the level of editing you choose for your project, the most important thing is that your editor retains your writing voice. For example, if you use slang in a blog post, or intentionally start a sentence with the word “and” on your website copy, the goal isn't for the editor to change your style, but rather, to retain it and make sure that your voice style is used consistently throughout! There is no one right way to approach writing - everyone has their own style of writing, and it’s important to preserve it!

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing (also known as substantive editing, structural editing, or content editing) takes place at the earliest stage of the editing process. A developmental editor will look at the big-picture elements and give feedback on the overall content and structure of your writing. 

Developmental editors have the most creative input regarding your message and its overall impact, since your work is at its rawest stage at this point. They can suggest major changes, and rewrite, reorganise, and add new sentences if they feel it will enhance your messaging. 

These are the key areas of focus in developmental editing:

  • Message: Is your message clear and impactful for your intended audience?

  • Content: Does your content support your main message?

  • Structure: Does your writing flow smoothly and logically between points?

Line Editing

Line editing, also known as stylistic editing, involves refining the flow of your writing to make sure it makes sense to your readers. 

These are the key areas of focus in line editing:

  • Sentence structure: Is your sentence clear?

  • Word choice: Do you use precise and impactful language that avoids jargon?

  • Style and tone: Does your writing maintain a consistent and appropriate tone for your target audience?

  • Rhythm and pacing: Does your writing flow smoothly and keep your reader engaged throughout?

All of these are stylistic elements that ensure that your work is a smooth read for your audience and is in line with your writing voice.

Copy Editing

The distinction between copy editing and line editing can be confusing, since they both involve editing at the sentence level. Even though there are some overlaps between the two, line editors focus on stylistic elements of the sentences, such as word choice and rhythm, while copy editors focus on the mechanical details of the sentences, such as grammar and punctuation. 

These are the key areas of focus in copy editing:

  • Grammar, punctuation, and spelling: Are the sentences grammatically correct? Is the spelling and punctuation accurate and consistent with the chosen style guide? 

  • Style consistency: Do all elements adhere to the style guide?

  • Register and tone: Does the language register and tone align with the intended audience?

  • Meaning and readability: Is the meaning clear and easy for the intended audience?


Similar to copy editing, proofreading involves looking at the mechanical details of your work, but at a lighter level - it’s the last step of the editing process, taking place when you’re ready to give your work a final polish to make sure any errors and inconsistencies are removed.

These are the key areas of focus in proofreading:

  • Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation: Do all elements align with the style guide?

  • Formatting & Consistency: Is line spacing and general formatting consistent throughout? If there are visual elements such as graphs, charts, tables, are they all formatted correctly? 

  • Factual accuracy: Are all facts, such as names and addresses, accurate?


The four main levels of editing are: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Developmental editing is a form of macro-level editing, looking at the big-picture elements of your writing, whereas line editing, copy editing, and proofreading are forms of micro-level editing, focusing on sentence-level editing.  

Please contact me if you have any questions regarding editing and the level of editing you’re looking for.

Editorially yours,


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