Editing no a computer

What are the different levels of editing?

So you’ve finished writing your book and you’re planning to self-publish. No idea where to get started? Here’s what you need to know about the different levels of editing.

Manuscript assessments, developmental editing, structural editing, copyediting, line editing, proofreading … What does it all mean and what level of editing do you need?

Many people presume editing is just about fixing up spelling mistakes and grammar. However, there’s a whole level of strategic thinking that comes into play during the editing process. This is where manuscripts assessments, developmental and structural editing come in. Then there’s the nitty-gritty, tidy-up-the-language level of editing. This is known as copy or line editing, and it’s also where proofreading comes in.

It’s important to do the big picture ‘shaping’ work first. Only then should you follow up with the smoothing and tidying up that copyediting provides.

So let’s take a look at the different stages, what you can expect, and what you need to know about each stage of the editing journey.

Manuscript assessment

You may want to consider a manuscript assessment once you have finished writing your book. A manuscript assessment is an overarching view of your manuscript advising on strengths and weaknesses. It should also make suggestions as to how your book can be improved.

A manuscript assessment generally consists of a written report about your manuscript. The report should cover genre, style, structure and language. It should also report on story arc, characterisation, point of view, theme and dialogue.

A manuscript assessment gives you the option to make structural changes yourself, which in the long run, could save you money on a developmental edit.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing is sometimes called ‘substantive editing’ or ‘structural editing’. This is a ‘macro’ or ‘big picture’ level of editing. It should ensure your structure is working effectively, along with your content, language, style and presentation.

It is the shaping stage where decisions that affect how your book works as a whole are made. It takes into account plot, story arc, structure, pacing, characterisation, narrative viewpoint, tense and more.

Development editing is also where problems such as lack of focus, inconsistent tone or an unclear audience often surface. Good writing tells a story, and when the reader has completed the journey, they should feel a sense of satisfaction at having read your work. They’ll have learned what they needed to know at the outset of the journey.

Copy editing

Your editor should ensure your manuscript flows smoothly during the copy-editing phase. This level of editing is also known as ‘line editing’ and ‘content editing’.

This is editing on the sentence level, looking at the text on a line-by-line and word-byword basis. It aims for accuracy, consistency and clarity. Standard grammar, spelling and punctuation are focal points, but readability is in play, too.

Sense is checked and flow is mastered at this stage, so that the reader is driven to continue to immerse themselves in the story’s world. Compelling writing makes readers forget that they’re reading. It removes any obstacles or distractions that might trip the reader up and pull them out of the story.


Proofreading is the final check to catch any last remaining errors that have been missed during the previous rounds of extensive professional revision. It’s the final check over your manuscript before design and print.

You will also need a proofread once the book has been designed. This should ensure everything is in order once the layout is complete. And that no issues have been introduced with running heads and alignment, for example.

Sample edit

Your editor can undertake a sample edit of your manuscript before you get started. This will give you an indication of the level of editing your manuscript required. It will also allow you to see the level of skill the editor has. There may be a small charge involved in a sample edit, but this can be deducted from the overall fee.

The levels of editing in short…

Some writers will seek help with all levels of editing. Others will do as much of it as possible themselves. Most find a halfway house – commissioning assistance with the levels they struggle with.

Bear in mind, publishing companies take their books through multiple rounds of editing. There’s a reason for that – it simply leads to a more professional book than one that has not been edited to that level.

Some editors offer all the levels of editing. Others specialize in specific services. A professional editor – whatever their focus – should be able to advise an author on the different levels of editing and the order of play.

You can read more about the editing process on the Institute of Professional Editors website here.