What Is Developmental Editing?

What Is Developmental Editing?

Before a manuscript is published, it goes through several stages of editing, and traditionally, each step is conducted separately. Developmental editing (also known as structural editing) is the essential first step that concerns the overall structure and content of a text. Keep reading to learn more about what’s involved in developmental editing and how it differs from other types of editing.

What Is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is the first phase of the editing process, typically completed after a writer has finished the first draft of their manuscript. At this stage, an editor thoroughly reviews it to determine any content and structural changes that should be made before publication. 

Developmental editing also addresses important issues related to the narrative, such as inconsistent plotlines or points of view, weak character development, or confusing story elements. 

A good developmental editor will also consider an author’s target audience and the specific genre of their work when editing. They’re generally looking at “big picture” elements and will provide feedback on the overall organization of ideas. 

A developmental editor guides the author as they write their next draft, rather than rewriting or restructuring the material themselves. Editors don’t normally look for grammatical errors, misspellings, or typos at this stage. 

How Is Developmental Editing Different from Other Types of Editing?

Developmental editing is different from other types of editing that occur further down the line, such as line editing and copy editing – neither of these involve major structural changes to a text.

  • Line editing: Line editors edit a manuscript at the sentence and paragraph level, looking for issues like incorrect word choice and unclear phrasing.
  • Copy editing: Copy editors check for issues such as repetition, syntax errors, factually incorrect material, and technical inconsistencies (e.g., inconsistent capitalization or hyphen use). If necessary, they also ensure the writer is following the required style guide.

All stages of editing are equally important, as they each focus on different aspects of a manuscript. As you can imagine, it wouldn’t make much sense to check for inconsistent spelling or hyphen use before an author makes significant rewrites or changes to the storyline.

How Is Developmental Editing Different from Proofreading?

While developmental editing is the first step in the editing process, proofreading is the final step before publication. Proofreaders evaluate a manuscript for mechanical correctness, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, typos, and repetition. 

Sometimes, proofreaders are responsible for checking the formatting of a document, such as page numbers. Typically, a text is not published until it’s had a full proofread by a qualified professional.

However, with manuscripts that aren’t being produced for mass printing, there may be some overlap in the services an editor provides. For example, if a freelance editor has a good professional relationship with a self-published author, they may work with them on every draft through each step of the process. Or they might combine two services, such as copy editing and proofreading. As a freelancer, it’s important to consult with clients about your services and the type of editing they expect.

Becoming An Editor

Want to learn more about what it takes to become a developmental editor? Our Becoming An Editor course covers the entire editing process and has a module dedicated to the steps involved in editing creative writing. Sign up for your free trial and get started today!

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