Types of Editorial Services

Every manuscript needs editing and having your old English teacher or your niece's friend who is "really good" with spelling just isn't enough.

Recognizing the need to have your manuscript professionally edited is a critical step in publishing a quality book. One of the challenges in finding the right editor is understanding all of the various levels of editing and determining what level your manuscript needs. One of the best descriptions we have found of editorial services is on the Editorial Freelancers Association website in their Code of Fair Practices. The Center recognizes this Code as the Best Practices standard for freelance editors. We highly recommend this organization and their website to help you find an editor for your manuscript.

In the following excerpt from the EFA Code of Fair Practices, we have highlighted the four types of editing that we have found are most commonly used in book publishing. In some instances, some level of Substantive (Content) Editing might be performed by the person doing the Copyediting. We have also found that the skills required for Copyediting are significantly different from those of a Developmental editor, so you may want to have them performed by different editors. Not ever manuscript needs a Developmental edit, but they all need a Copyedit. As a frame of reference, the editorial services are generally performed in the following order:

  1. Developmental Edit
  2. Substantive (Content) Edit
  3. Copyedit
  4. Proofreading

We are providing this excerpt from the Code of Fair Practices for easy reference here, but recommend you read the entire Code and the other information on the EFA website.

Types of Freelance Editorial Work

Editorial freelancers perform a variety of tasks that often defy common descriptions of editorial jobs. For example, an editorial freelancer who takes on a copyediting project might also correct logical flaws in narration or make other changes that entail substantive editing. A freelancer doing a proofreading project might impose a consistent style, even though editing for style is generally viewed as the copyeditor's job.

With the increase in electronic publishing, many editorial jobs also take on different perspectives and new tasks. For example, a proofreader might be expected to verify links on a website page. A writer providing content for a website might also code and publish updated pages. Because editorial freelancers apply a variety of skills to their work, both freelancer and client must evaluate a project and agree on its needs. To establish a basis for such a discussion, both parties need to have a working vocabulary of terms that describe editorial functions.

Standardization of terms is lacking among editorial professionals and editorial freelancers themselves often disagree about the definitions of editorial tasks. The following glossary of terms should help to differentiate among editorial functions and so should facilitate communication between editorial freelancers and their clients. These definitions therefore describe editorial tasks but not the requirements for specific jobs or the skills of specific individuals.

Abstracting. Writing a succinct summary or synopsis of a work, often for an academic publication or professional journal. The length, style, and amount of detail in an abstract vary depending on its intended use.

Copyediting (sometimes called line editing). Any or all of the following:

  • correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word usage while preserving the meaning and voice of the original text
  • checking for or imposing a consistent style and format
  • preparing a style sheet that documents style and format
  • reading for overall clarity and sense on behalf of the prospective audience
  • querying the appropriate party about apparent errors or inconsistencies
  • noting permissions needed to publish copyrighted material
  • preparing a manuscript for the next stage of the publication process
  • cross-checking references, art, figures, tables, equations, and other features for consistency with their mentions in the text

Copyfitting and Page Makeup. Rewriting text to fit format specifications.

Desktop Publishing. Performing publishing functions using personal computers. Common desktop publishing tasks include page layout and design, composition, embedding formatting codes for conventional composition, illustration, typography, indexing, documentation, manipulating and editing graphics, color separation, and preparing documents for online publication.

Developmental Editing. Any or all of the following:

  • working with the client and, usually, the author of a book or other document to develop a manuscript from initial concept, outline, or draft (or some combination of the three) through any number of subsequent drafts
  • making suggestions about content, organization, and presentation, based on analysis of competing works, comments of expert reviewers, the client's market analysis, and other appropriate references
  • rewriting, writing, and researching, as needed, and sometimes suggesting topics or providing information about topics for consideration of authors and client

Evaluating a Manuscript. Reading and reviewing an unpublished manuscript and preparing a written report about the work that addresses the client's specific concerns, such as competition, audience, and timeliness of topic.

Fact Checking. Verifying the accuracy of content. The scope and specific tasks involved vary depending on the type of publication.

Illustrating. Expressing or translating editorial content as a visual image using traditional or electronic media. An illustration may appear on a work's cover, in its interior, or on a website, either as a color or monochrome image. Illustrators are expected to submit finished work in a form ready for production.

Indexing. Providing a comprehensive guide to the contents of a work and generally involving the following:

  • reading page proofs or the equivalent to compile an alphabetical list of references to pertinent terms and concepts in the text
  • choosing, grouping, and consolidating page references under main headings, subheadings, and cross-references as a guide to specific information.

Project Management. Any or all of the following:

  • coordinating and overseeing all or part of the publication process for all or part of a publication
  • supervising and sometimes selecting other contractors to carry out such functions as copyediting, proofreading, illustrating, indexing, typesetting, and printing
  • facilitating communication among authors, editors, and others involved in the project
  • evaluating and monitoring production costs

Proofreading. Comparing the latest stage of text with the preceding stage, marking discrepancies in text, and, when appropriate, checking for problems in page makeup, layout, color separation, or type. Proofreading may also include one or more of the following:

  • checking proof against typesetting specifications
  • querying or correcting errors or inconsistencies that may have escaped an editor or writer
  • reading for typographical errors or for sense without reading against copy
  • verifying links in online publications

Researching. Gathering and verifying information to develop all or part of a publication.

Rewriting. Any or all of the following:

  • adding original material to a draft
  • deleting material
  • reorganizing material
  • collaborating with other editors
  • producing another draft
  • reworking print copy for online publication

Substantive Editing. [Center note - sometimes called Content Editing] Improving a manuscript in any or all of the following ways:

  • identifying and solving problems of overall clarity or accuracy
  • reorganizing paragraphs, sections, or chapters to improve the order in which the text is presented
  • writing or rewriting segments of text to improve readability and flow of information
  • revising any or all aspects of the text to improve its presentation
  • consulting with others about issues of concern
  • incorporating responses to queries and suggestions and creating a new draft of the document

Translating. Rendering a work from one language to another while preserving the original meaning, tone, and style as much as possible.

Typemarking. Indicating on a manuscript or in electronic files the actual type specifications for each element (for example, heading, displayed material, or list), often by noting codes for each element.

Writing. Producing an original document from notes, outline, research, interviews, experience, or general guidelines. The following two kinds of specialized writing are now commonplace:

Technical Writing. Writing about computer hardware or software or about other technical products or equipment, usually with information provided by engineers or other technical professionals and including any or all of the following:

  • working with programmers, engineers, or other technical professionals to clarify product specifications
  • organizing information to enhance ease of learning or understanding by product users
  • designing online documentation

Medical Writing. Writing about drugs or biological devices and products, usually with information provided by scientists or doctors and including any or all of the following:

  • working with scientists, doctors, or other researchers to clarify scientific data
  • ensuring that documents comply with regulatory or journal guidelines


"Editorial Freelancers Association Code of Fair Practices," last modified September 2007, http://www.the-efa.org/res/code_1.php