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 An editor’s role involves substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading.

Types of editing

The tasks that an editor performs can be grouped broadly into three types: substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading. A comprehensive edit involves all three types of edit.

Substantive editing (sometimes called structural or content editing) aims to ensure that the structure, content, language, style and presentation of the document are suitable for its intended purpose and readership.

Copyediting aims to achieve accuracy, clarity and consistency in a document. It does not involve significant rewriting, providing a single authorial voice or tailoring text to a specific audience – these belong to a substantive edit.

Proofreading (usually called this but sometimes known as verification editing) involves checking that the document is ready to be published. It includes making sure that all elements of the document are included and in the proper order, all amendments have been inserted, the house or other set style has been followed, and all spelling or punctuation errors have been deleted.

All of these types of edit are essential in producing a high-quality publication, whether on paper or onscreen. They are performed at different times in the publication process and are not necessarily performed only once.

The three types usually overlap to some degree; an editor hired to do a copyedit is quite likely to also perform some of the tasks usually associated with a substantive edit.

Substantive editing

Substantive editing begins with an analysis of who will use the document and for what purpose. The editor will determine:

  • What is the purpose of the document?
  • Who will read it and why?
  • What should readers know or do as a result?
  • How much do readers already know about the subject?
  • In what circumstances will they read it?
  • Will they read the document from start to finish or select sections?
  • Will they use the document for reference or information?

The editor will use the answers to these questions to complete the substantive edit. The components of the substantive edit are:


Structural review

  • Ensure the information is complete and appropriate, and determine whether additional material or reader aids (such as illustrative material, glossary or index) are required.
  • Identify whether any major rewriting is required and, if so, agree on who will do this.
  • Determine whether any rearrangement, expansion or summarising of sections is required to achieve the most logical structure, and whether any material should be relegated to an appendix or vice versa. If so, agree on who will do this.
  • Ensure the document contains appropriate navigation aids, such as headings or internal links.

Language and style editing

  • Ensure language and form are appropriate to the readership.
  • Ensure there is a logical flow and appropriate weighting of discussion.
  • Ensure information and arguments are presented clearly and unambiguously.
  • Delete any unnecessary repetition, as well as redundancies, contradictions and irrelevant material.
  • Eliminate wordiness, triteness, repetition, and inappropriate jargon.
  • Improve awkward phrasing.
  • Ensure consistency in tone and writing style, while still retaining the author’s style (unless directed otherwise).

Clarity of presentation

  • Check that the presentation is simple and effective.
  • Ensure document title and all headings accurately reflect contents.
  • Check appropriateness, placement and clarity of tables, figures and other illustrative material.
  • Check material in tables and figures against textual references and for accuracy where required.
  • Ensure appropriate referencing is included.
  • Where necessary, ensure that explanations of symbols, abbreviations and terms are incorporated in the text or glossary.


Copyediting is more detailed than substantive editing. The focus is on grammar, spelling, capitalisation, punctuation, hyphenation and overall correctness and consistency.


Appropriate use of language

Check for correct and appropriate:

  • grammar
  • syntax
  • spelling
  • punctuation
  • clarity of expression.

This might include some rewording of sentences to ensure that the meaning is clear, but should not involve significant rewriting or restructuring.



Language consistency
Ensure consistency in terms of:

  • language and structural parallelism
  • terms used
  • spelling
  • capitalisation
  • hyphenation
  • abbreviations
  • expression of numbers and quantitative data
  • references.

Alternatively, the editor may follow a house style covering these elements.

Visual consistency
Ensure consistent and appropriate format in terms of:

  • typography
  • heading hierarchy
  • page layout
  • figures
  • tables and captions.

Alternatively, the editor may follow a house style covering these elements.



Check the accuracy of dates, model numbers, quotations, and hypertext links.



Check accuracy of cross-references within text, between text and figures, and between lists of contents and body of document.

Check conformity and completeness in textual and bibliographic references and quotations.

Check sources have been acknowledged and copyright law has been followed.


Conformity with style sheet

If no house style has been set, the editor will adopt or devise a style sheet that is internally consistent and in line with accepted practice, in consultation with the client.


This is a major quality control step and ensures that the document is ready to be published.

Components of proofreading or the verification edit are:


Verification of copy

Check against previous copy for discrepancies.

Check that all amendments have been accurately inserted.


Integrity check

Check that the document is complete, including (as appropriate):

  • preliminary matter (cover, dust-jacket material, spine copy, preliminary pages, copyright and publication information)
  • body of document (abstract/summary, text, tables, illustrative material, labels and captions, footnotes and endnotes)
  • end matter (appendixes, lists of abbreviations and symbols, glossary, references/bibliography, index).

Check headings, pagination, figures and tables against lists of contents.



Check for:

  • spelling, typographical or punctuation errors
  • appropriate word breaks at ends of lines
  • accurate cross-referencing.

Conformity with house style

Ensure consistency in:

  • terminology, spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation, abbreviations and acronyms, italics
  • heading hierarchies
  • style of numbers, dates, percentages, symbols, equations.

Check type specifications.

Check page layout.



Eliminate any widows, orphans or rivers.

Check that tables are not split unnecessarily, and that alignment, spacing and bold type are correct.

Note any necessary directions for the typesetter and printer.