Have you finished a novel, scientific paper, a children’s story and in search of an editor? Do you also have a feeling it may need a bit more than just a punctuation, grammar, and tense check?
If you have concerns about the structure of your story, the plot development, character arcs, or just how it hangs together, you may need a content editor.
Let’s take a deep dive into the content editing process so you understand what’s involved.
The different phases of editing
There are many different stages of editing. In a snapshot, there’s basic (proofreading and copy editing), required (line editing, often an industry standard), advanced (content), and super advanced (executive content editing or developmental).
Basic doesn’t mean your work is of a limited level, but the editing required touches only on grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and simple phrasing. From there, it continues to ratchet up a few gears.
Line Editing looks at some phrasing and the flow of statements, and considers how these ideas work as a whole. Content Editing takes this a step further, looking at the entire organization of the document. It makes sure it’s effective, cohesive, understandable, and everything just gels. Sounds pretty good, right?
As this is a fairly simple explanation of these editing levels, we recommend you read more about our different levels of editing here.
RELATED READ: Editing vs Proofreading
What is content editing?
Content editing takes a comprehensive look at the content of your work. It covers everything from small elements like punctuation, grammar, spelling, and phrasing, to big-picture elements like structure and organization.
This means your editor may make anything from a punctuation fix to suggestions in the comments in the margins about what tweaking is required, perhaps particular wording, or advice to move the order of paragraphs around. At First Editing, we provide some comments on the character development, settings, and plot in our summary.
Content Editing is a serious edit. It takes a bit longer than the other levels because your editor spends a lot more time going over your document. And they should, because it’s what you’ve asked for.
The importance of content editing
Content editors are more than just a beta reader. They definitely provide a fresh set of eyes for your manuscript, but they’re also trained to recognize plot holes, character flaws like unbelievability or lack of motivations and goals, any smoking gun elements of an object that magically enters or disappears from a scene, how scenes open and close, if there is adequate suspense and tension, if the story follows the basics of a story arc and much more.
They evaluate the overall structure of the document, how it hangs together as a unit, but also look at the line-by-line editing work required as well. They’re kind of like an all-in-one package. It’s comprehensive and a very popular package for writers.
Steps and tips for content editing
You may wonder how a content editor approaches a document. Well, here’s a description of the process that you find useful if you opt to undertake any part of this process yourself.
The type of document
All editors make some quick assessments when they first get hold of a manuscript. The first is to check what kind of document it is, as a novel or scientific paper need a very different approach. They note the word count and any requirements the writer has listed, and if the editing the document needs lines up with what they have requested. This is the time to problem-solve if something is amiss.
After the word count, the editor might run the document through a spellcheck, check the formatting, and try to tidy up the document on a quick first pass. This saves getting bogged down in some of these details later. If there are specific requirements, like a style guide, some editors may opt to do these things first, correcting references and so on. Others to it at the end.
Start the edit
Once the first steps have been done, it’s time to get into the editing. As this is a content edit, the editor must work line by line correcting grammar, punctuation, tenses, and spelling but also keep track of major elements of the document, such as the plot, settings, and characters for any storytelling literature. For a scientific essay, it might be the premise of the document, or the theories outlined.
Editors may keep notes on noticeable issues, such as problems with tenses, a character appearing without an introduction, a smoking gun element that is never explained away, or any plot holes.
They might ask the following questions:
- Does the structure of the book make sense and unfold chronologically or logically?
- Does the style and format match the genre, and what the writer has stated?
- Does each scene have a purpose, and does it fit within the overall plot?
- Are characters believable and do they have consistent motivations and goals?
- Is the writer telling when they should be showing?
- Are the images, tables, diagrams, footnotes, endnotes, and references used correctly?
- Does the book/document need further material, like an epilogue or a bibliography?
Take a break
Once the edits are finished, it’s a good idea to take a breather from the document before coming back for a second pass. This can be the time to run the document through a spell check again, formatting check, and reference/style elements to make sure nothing has gone amiss in the editing.
Write the notes
Most content editors will provide notes for their writers as they go, using the side column to explain changes needed, suggest rewrites, or other pertinent matters. However, the final notes they send the client will collate all of these and expand further on anything raised within the document. This should give the writer a succinct appraisal of their work, what does work well, and what might need some more attention.
RELATED READ: How to Self-Edit Faster and More Efficiently
How to choose a content editor
It’s important to choose a good content editor for your manuscript but there are certainly a lot of options out there. One good way to see what an editor can do for you is to check if they provide a sample edit first. At First Editing, we offer a free sample process for all writers. Simply submit your manuscript to us, and we’ll make a selection and suggest what level of editing it needs. Please rest assured we only suggest the level required.
This is a very useful process, as often writers aren’t sure what they need. And it’s good if we can preview them first, so we don’t end up with a document that either needs far more work or is so good a lower-level edit might suffice.
Please see our Video: What is Content Editing with JoEllen Nordström