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Structural editing, copy editing and proofreading - what’s the difference?



Structural editing, copy editing and proofreading are editorial skills that, as writers, we ignore at our peril. Even if you want to submit via the traditional print publication route, though, you’ll still need to make sure that your manuscript is word perfect.  But what exactly do they involve?


Structural editing often also goes by the name of substantive editing and is mainly concerned with the story itself. a structural editor can begin when you've completed your first draft. They'll check that the story flows, that the characterisation is good and that the story makes sense. This will involve looking at plot sequence and progression, dialogue, setting, theme, tense, point of view and voice. Structural editors will also check your text for accuracy and ask you to cut or extend your writing.

At the end of this part of the editing process, you should have a manuscript that is tightly written and eminently readable.


Your manuscript can then be passed to a copy editor. The role of the copy editor is to make sure your text is easy to read.  If your manuscript is in fairly good shape, it may only need light copy editing. A copy editor will make sure your sentences flow smoothly by fixing awkward phrasing or suggesting alternatives. They will flag up any inconsistencies, such as the spelling of a character’s name, their age and occupation, or slip-ups in time and place. Finally, they will check spelling, punctuation and grammar.


Proof readers take over where copy editors leave off, adding a final checking stage to the editing process. They will ensure that the rules of grammar are followed, that punctuation is precise and that spellings and formatting are correct.   What proofreading does not include is re-writing, which is part of the copyediting process.


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