What Can I Expect from an Editor?

Closeup of copy with hovering red pencil and

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / bradcalkins

Editors come in two flavors: a content editor who – surprise, surprise – edits for content and a copy editor who edits for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

If you’re hiring an editor for a full-length book, you may want to hire two separate editors. If your editing needs are less than a full-length book, you can hire a 2-in-1 editor, one who can provide both content and copy editing.

Either way, here’s what to expect from content and copy editors.

A 2-in-1 editor will first edit for content and second for copy. Likewise, if you are hiring the editors separately, first your content editor will review your work, followed by the copy editor.

Content editors find and fill the holes in your writing. As a content editor reads, he asks: Does the piece grab the reader? Do the ideas flow in logical sequence? Are they comprehensive and comprehensible? Is there a beginning, middle, and end in a storytelling narrative? Does it answer the “who, what, when, where, and why” questions in a news release or business letter? Is it written in inverted pyramid style for a media release or news story? Will the target audience understand it or does it contain language that needs to be explained? Is it funny – intentionally? In fiction, do the characters maintain a consistent point of view and act within their characterization?

A thorough content edit may take three, four, five, or more edits to ready a piece for publication, depending on the length of the piece and the skill of the writer.

Content editing is followed by copy editing. A copy editor reads the copy line by line in search of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, ensuring the correct “there,” “their,” or “they’re” is used, that “it’s” is used in place of “it is” and not the possessive “its,” that the semicolon is not misused, and that the Oxford comma is used or not used consistently. A copy editor may also note content inconsistencies, but that is not his primary objective.

Once an editor is satisfied that the piece has reached perfection, a good editor will print it and read it out loud. Humans first communicated through the spoken word and good writing must stand up to an oral reading. Editors catch more mistakes when speaking it aloud and studies have shown that more mistakes are caught when reading a printed page as opposed to an electronic page. Good editing cannot be a completely green process.

But it is always a two-step process, a process that ensures your copy is comprehensible and grammatically correct.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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