The Three Stages of the Editing Process
The first and most important stage in the editing process is the macro-edit, also called a content edit or a developmental edit. In this stage, an editor (or you, the writer, if you are editing your own work) looks at the big picture. For fiction, this might include character development, pacing, point of view, voice, believability of events, and overall plot. For nonfiction, this may include structure and tone, as well as the soundness of the content. This stage of the editing process is often the most challenging because it can lead to complete overhauls of the work. As such, some beginning writers try to skip it, focusing only on the smaller, easier-to-fix details of grammar and diction. But skip it at your peril! This is where the real work of writing is done: in the rewriting.
When I perform a macro-edit for a client, I leave comments and suggestions throughout their manuscript, and then I write a letter detailing areas that are working well and areas that need improvement. I try to include a variety of options for paths forward.
The second stage in the editing process is the line-edit, sometimes called the copy-edit. Here, editors look closer at the language of a manuscript, checking for grammatical correctness but also for rhythm, paragraph organization, and image. You don’t want to perform a line-edit until you are confident that the overall structure of your manuscript is sound. When I line-edit for a client, I use track-changes in Microsoft Word to offer suggested rewrites or corrections.
The final stage in the editing process is the proofread, looking for typos and the smaller, trickier points of grammar, like comma and hyphen usage. Good proofreaders are hard to find. It’s a much more difficult job than most people realize. Just because you happened to find a typo in a book you are reading, doesn’t mean you would make a good proofreader. After all, you never know how many errors you don’t catch! The trick to proofreading well is to read syllable by syllable rather than word by word.