All editing is a unique stage in any document, and content editing has a form and process just like any other form of editing.
But what is it and what do you need to know? Let’s take a look.
What is content editing?
Content editing is sometimes confused with other levels of editing that look for more surface-level mistakes. For instance, copywriting looks for spelling, syntax errors, grammar mistakes, punctuation problems, and even style guide agreement.
Content editing looks at the organization of the work and reviews it for flow, readability, and ease of understanding. For this reason, it is sometimes called developmental, organizational, substantive, or comprehensive editing. All these descriptors should give you the idea that it is a thorough and in-depth edit.
This type of edit is very different from line-by-line editing, which is designed mostly to correct technical mistakes, such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A content editor may cover those things also, but they are looking beyond this to how the story hangs together.
A good content editor will look at things like the use of plot, setting, and character elements in how effectively you communicate the story, theme, idea, or brand in the document.
Please see our editing levels for a full description of each level if you’re not as familiar with all these terms.
Steps for content editing
Now that you understand a little more about what content editing is, it’s important to understand when it should be completed.
As this level deals more with the organization of the work, it’s a more big-picture edit and therefore best done earlier on in your writing process. With writing, you should work big to small. This means getting the format or plot in place, having key storylines or themes at the right moment within the storyline, and making sure all scenes follow through logically from there. You don’t necessarily need to worry about every comma being in place; the spelling being perfect or the tenses correct, yet. That comes later with a copy edit or proofread, although the content editor will take care of that as well.
Content editors often work much the same way, from big to small. Some may edit the syntax (punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc) as they go along, but they can also be left for later. A priority list for content editors might read:
Flow – Review the structure and sequence of paragraphs/scenes/plot for the best logical sequencing. Is it cohesive, understandable, and logical?
Review for clarity – Are sentences active, clear, and direct? Can they be pruned for readability or improved in some way?
Syntax checks – Adjust grammar, spelling, tenses, and other punctuation where necessary.
Polishing – Check headlines, titles, and formatting. Review introductions and conclusions in articles or papers, or the beginning or end of a story to make sure they have maximum impact.
Final adjustments – Does the story align with the brand or voice of the company/writer/entity producing it? Are key plot points met at the right time? Make a final check by reading it again, and running it through checks like a spelling, grammar, or format check.
Feedback – Let the writer know the strengths and weaknesses of the story/copy with useful feedback about the changes made or those that could still be made. This can be in the form of a separate document, but good content editors also make comments throughout the story.
Tips for content editing
To get the most out of the content editing process, you should only submit your document once you’ve done all the checks you can on it. The more you do to correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other elements first, and run it through as many checks as you can, the more you will get out of your content editor. Let them work on the organization elements and not waste time on things that you could have easily corrected yourself.
Content editing is a more time-consuming process than a copy edit or proofread. Documents can be complex with multiple elements, like tables, graphs, images, and so on. In fiction, plot lines might be involved or long, characters detailed or expansive, and setting elements that do or don’t fit the location. The editor needs to exercise judgment and sometimes needs time to allow the story to marinate within their editing process.
Writers should not expect that a document comes back ready to publish after this process. There should be work necessary in a story after a content edit. There are corrections to consider, advice to perhaps work into a new structure of the plot, character elements to expand on or setting/description to add to paint the scene more effectively. Take your time to rework the document according to what they have recommended.
Why hire a professional content editor?
All written content needs editing, preferably by someone other than the writer or a family member. This is because writers are often too close to their work and find it hard to look at it objectively. And while a family member or friend may write well or read a lot, they are not a trained professional.
A writer can easily miss obvious errors in both syntax and organization. This is often because they have an inherent understanding of what the plot is or the idea intended, but may not realize it’s unclear to the reader.
This is where a content editor comes in. They are trained to look objectively at sentences, plot ideas, character arcs, and organizational elements of the story and advise on how best to rework or rewrite them.
Why recommend First Editing?
All the editors at First Editing are professionals. We are trained to find the little details that writers and even peer groups miss. Content editing is a particular art as it requires knowledge of story arcs, character development, and effective use of scene-setting elements. A peer group or beta reader may understand what they like or don’t like in stories, but may not be able to explain why something works or doesn’t in terms of the usual approach to story writing elements. A professional editor can explain these details and make corrections within industry standards.
For further information on content editing, please check out these excellent blogs on our website: