Editing: Types of editing in academic publishing

Types of editing in academic publishing

Editing: Types of editing in academic publishing


Editing is a broad term and its meaning differs based on the line of profession or industry.  Editing in terms of writing and publishing refers to the task or work that involves revisions undertaken in the process of writing manuscripts, applied after a writer finishes writing a draft. It is a wide-ranging term that involves multiple levels of editing or a range of editing steps and methods applied to a manuscript to complete the editing process. Editing is broken down into various categories, and each category of editing focuses on checking and rectifying a limited number of aspects in the body or text of a manuscript.

Editing aims at looking at several key aspects such as tone of the content, logical flow of information, coherence and consistency of information, clear meaning of the complete work, precise and concise expression of ideas, accuracy of the information provided vis-à-vis purpose of the work, and content targeting the right audience. Hence, editing is not just about correcting mistakes, but also about making sure that the paper has no errors left from the author’s end.

Types of editing in publishing

1. Copy editing

2. Line editing

3. Substantive editing

4. Mechanical editing

5. Developmental editing

Let us look into the meaning of the various types of editing

1. What is copy editing

Copy editing is the first category and starting step in the editing cycle applied on a draft or a manuscript. As the term suggests, copy editing is a process that involves editing a copy or draft or a manuscript. It is a process that ensures the text is free from errors related to spelling, grammar, punctuation, semantics, terminology, phrasing, and formatting. Copy editing alternatively referred to as (“copy-editing” or “copyediting”) is the process undertaken on a new manuscript or a draft to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of the text. The purpose of copy editing is to ensure the content is accurate, easy to understand and follow, fit for its intended purpose, and free from language and formatting errors, omission, inconsistency, and repetition of information. Copy editing in the context of publication refers to a process done before typesetting and again before proofreading, which is the final step in the editorial cycle.

Levels of copy editing

Copy editing has three levels: light, medium, and heavy. The level of copy editing implemented or applied depends on the budget and scheduling of the publication; based on the service opted for by the author or based on the quality of the manuscript submitted, the publisher will let the copy editor know what level of copy editing to employ.  The level of copy editing opted for by the author will determine the priority and efforts applied by the copy editor in editing a manuscript.

Copy editing is also commonly known as line because it sometimes involves simultaneous and intensive editing, which is applied in short drafts like essays, reports, and presentations. However, professional editors usually keep copy editing and line editing as a separate editing task while editing extensive or lengthy manuscripts such as books, journal articles, monographs, etc. The only difference between copy editing and line editing is that copy editing focuses on the mechanical aspects of editing such as fixing spelling errors, grammar, and punctuation, which are considered lighter tasks, while line editing focuses on the sentences. Today, copy editing and line editing are separate tasks in manuscript preparation.

How long does copy editing take?

The time taken for copy editing can vary depending on the quality and word count of the manuscript. The length and difficulty of the manuscript will determine the time taken to complete the entire process. If the manuscript or draft submitted is of low quality, then the copy editing process will take a while, as more alterations and changes are needed in improving the quality of the draft to make it suitable for publishing. Sometimes, even when the word count of a manuscript is larger, but due to the quality of the manuscript being exceptional, the process could take a lot less time. In professional context, copy editing service providers analyze a manuscript before estimating a delivery date, authors can also demand for an early delivery which would be costlier in most cases. Depending upon the requirements of the author, copy editing can take an organic processing time or a fast-track processing time which would likely engage several copy editors at the same time.

Another factor determining the time taken in copy editing is on the author’s responsiveness and consistent communication. And author’s responsiveness in getting back to the editor can greatly impact the time taken in copy editing. This usually happens when the copy editor is unable to verify sources of information or facts from the internet and requires your assistance in providing the correct source to the fact or information you provided in the draft. This is to ensure that the facts and sources represent the exact information provided in the manuscript. Copy editors maintain a close line of communication for various other reasons such as providing feedbacks in the form of constructive criticisms or required improvisation and rewriting on key aspects of information. The author’s collaboration with the copy editor will determine the time and quality of the manuscript. One more factor determining the time taken for copy editing is in the type of copy editing an author subscribes for, if it is light copy editing, it will require less time, medium and heavy or intensive copy editing can take up to several weeks depending upon the length and difficulty of the draft submitted.

2. What is line editing?

Line editing, as the term suggests, is a process in editing that involves revisions applied in a copy or draft by checking and reviewing the manuscript line by line or sentences as a whole and not paragraph wise. Line editing in the professional context is distinguished from copy editing and is segmented as a separate editing process. It is a form of editing that falls between copy editing and developmental editing. Line editing involves an editor who carefully analyzes each line or sentence to ensure the word choice are consistent forming a correct sentence and the intended meaning and impact of the sentence is crisp and tightened. The editor works on the syntax and decides whether to trim, rearrange, shorten or lengthen a sentence to deliver a clearer message. Line editing focuses mainly on the language, and not on improving the topic. Making sure each word is written with an intended purpose to convey an intended meaning. Line editing involves a lot of cutting down of words such unnecessary words that do not help or improve the sentence. If words included do not make a sentence or meaning stronger, than such words are only distracting and increasing the length of the manuscript.

Basically line editing is polishing up the sentence level of the text to be as clean, efficient and effective as possible. For example; words like ‘just’ or ‘only’ are redundant words and does nothing to convey an effective message especially in academic context, line editors make sure the sentences are free from redundant words and are replaced with words that convey the exact meaning intended. Line editors mainly focus on removing passive voice misuse from sentences, redundancy, vague terms and re-forming intricate text. Line editing is an intensive editing process, extremely time consuming and requires more effort to employ. Line editing is considered the longest process in all the edits.

3. What is substantive editing?

Substantive editing (also known as structural editing) refers to the organization and presentation of the draft or manuscript as a whole. Substantive editing focuses on the surface of the article to make sure whether or not it communicates with the targeted audience. This involves checking on the meanings and accuracy on how information is structured and presented. Similar to line editing, it involves tightening sentences, but extends to paragraphs, chapters, and the context to ensure the sentence levels are cohesive enough to form a clear meaning. Substantive editing deals with the actual prose, checking transitions to make sure that information does not appear out of the blue and to make sure the reader will find value from the substance of the article. Substantive editors maintain a strong communication line with authors. They delve deep into the information to uncover what the author is really trying to convey, and exposes partial meanings and information for authors to clarify and provide greater inputs that can be added to strengthen a context. Substantive editors are guides who help the author through the writing of the manuscript by providing a bigger picture on the topic, theme or the content as a whole to broaden up the perspective of authors to come up with greater inputs and links that can be added to improve the overall presentation and strength of the manuscript.

4. Mechanical editing

Mechanical editing refers to a type of editing task that involves the application of a particular style such as The Chicago Manual of Style or the American Psychological Association (APA) style rules and format. This form of editing is fundamental and technical that determines the entire standard of the draft, ensuring the written content adheres to the required academic style, standards accepted and appropriate for scholarly publishing or targeted scholarly journals. The editor checks and fixes mechanical errors related to punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and even spelling.

In technical terms, mechanical editing is a process that ensures that the draft is consistent and in accordance with the publisher’s house style.

5. Developmental editing

Developmental editing is the first as well as the final step in the editing cycle. It is a process that is commonly applied in the academic and research genre. Developmental editing is a form of a writing support that comes into play before, during, or after the production of a manuscript before the draft is sent for proofreading. As the term suggests, developmental editing is a process undertaken during and after the development of the manuscript. It involves extensive structuring or restructuring of a manuscript. And includes inspecting the organization and presentation of the draft to ensure the outline of the draft adheres to the journal guidelines. In developmental editing, the editor focuses on scrutinizing the order, flow and consistency of the text. Developmental editor lays out the structure of the writing based on the academic tone and standard required.

A developmental editor goes into work after the publisher feels the author’s draft requires substantial revision and restructuring. Commonly, developmental editors engage with the author from the very beginning to create the outline for guiding the author in writing the draft by conforming to the academic rule and standard. Developmental editors assist authors by providing supporting materials in the form of short text such as legends and exercises. Furthermore, the editor manages text length, edits the developed manuscript, and may also instruct an artist regarding illustration if necessary.

In the academic research setting, career funding depends on the quality of the research paper published. However, not all researchers are naturally skilled writers due to lack of formal training on the specific genre of the research discipline. In such cases, developmental editors are engaged from the very beginning, working and guiding the author through the process of developing the manuscript. Developmental editing is necessary in cases when the written draft does the meet the particular academic genre and exposes any weak links and questions the author about it. Due to its extensive nature of editing and support, developmental editing is extremely time intensive and costly.


Editing is an extensive process, especially in the academic discipline, as the academic standard for publishing is very particular about the presentation of its drafts and adheres to the highest formalities to avoid questionable content. Content published from scholarly disciplines is used for higher education and distributed across the scholarly community and universities as knowledge and information for reference, which calls for an uncompromised quality that only editing can egender.

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