Difference between Editing and Copyediting

By Mugdha Wagle, MS, Bioinformatics, Georgia Institute of Technology


It can be difficult to decide whether you should use editing or copyediting services to polish your manuscript. What is the difference?

To answer this in simple terms:

Editing focuses on the meaning of your content, while copyediting focuses on its technical quality.

What does an editing service include?

An editor will read your draft and make changes to improve the structure, flow, and logic. A good editor will be a subject matter expert, who will review your paper critically and edit it to convey your ideas clearly. A good editor is also aware of the audience at whom the manuscript is aimed, and will suggest changes that will help your manuscript appeal specifically to that audience.

Editing might involve substantial changes in the content. It is ideally a collaborative process, where the editor suggests changes in language and overall structure, and the author agrees to those changes or asks for alternative suggestions.

What does a copyediting service include?

In comparison with editing, copyediting focuses less on the big picture, and more on the details of the language on a sentence-by-sentence basis. Copyediting services check for accuracy, consistency, and errors in grammar, spelling, syntax, and punctuation. They also check that correct subject-specific terminology is used, subject-specific conventions are followed, and information contained within the manuscript, e.g. names of equipment and institutions, dates of events, and other factual data, is accurate. Thus, copyediting includes proofreading, along with ensuring that awkward language and obvious errors are corrected.

So, editing includes copyediting?

Yes, it does – BUT copyediting is not the primary focus. An editor who is concentrating on the meaning and progression of ideas in the content might just miss minor typographical errors.

Here is an exact comparison between editing and copyediting services:

Scope

Copyediting Services

Editing Services

Correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation

Yes

Yes, but trivial errors might be overlooked.

Ensuring proper sentence structure and accurate word choice

Yes

Yes

Removing redundancy and wordiness

Yes, but on a sentence-by-sentence basis only.

Yes

Checking for adherence to audience expectations (in terms of British vs. American English usage, formatting, and subject matter)

Yes

Yes

Checking for suitability of the size of the manuscript (i.e. word count or page count)

No

Yes

Ensuring the smooth flow of ideas within the entire narrative

No

Yes

Making suggestions for improvements in the content, i.e. rearranging sentences or paragraphs to improve clarity or logical flow and/or suggesting additions or deletions to the content based on the expectations of the target readership

No

Yes

Involves collaboration between author and editor

No

Yes (ideally!)

How different is the final version of the document to the original version?

The differences are primarily those of language and grammar.

By the end of the editing process, substantial changes in meaning and content may have occurred, based on inputs from the editor. However, these will be confirmed by the author before being finalized.

The example below shows you what a paragraph that has been subjected to copyediting and then to editing services will look like.


Original paragraph

In today’s society, electronic products such as digital cameras, tablets and cell phones are more popular than ever and cheaper. Companies that make and sell those electronic products are willing to design products with more and more functions. But they don’t know how to forecast the future choice of youth for what functions to give in next generation products. One way is to check data from social media sites like FB, Twitter, etc. and then determine this.


Paragraph after being copyedited

Today, electronic products such as digital cameras, tablets, and cell phones have become cheaper and more popular. Companies that manufacture and sell these products are willing to design models that have additional functions. However, they do not know how to forecast the future choices of young people with regards to the type of functions that could be given in next-generation products. One way to determine this could be to analyze data obtained from social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Note the changes: The grammar was corrected at several places; for example, a series comma was inserted in the list, ‘digital cameras, tablets, and cell phones.’ The contraction ‘don’t’ was revised to ‘do not.’ The word ‘But’ at the start of the sentence was revised to ‘However.’ Certain word choices were improved; for example, ‘make’ was revised to ‘manufacture’ and ‘more and more’ to ‘additional.’ The ‘.etc’ was deleted from the last sentence, as it is inadvisable to use it in formal writing.

However, this paragraph has scope for further improvements.


Paragraph after being edited

In contemporary society, there has been a considerable increase in the popularity and affordability of electronic products such as digital cameras, tablets, and cell phones. Companies that manufacture and sell these products are willing to design newer models with additional functions. However, predicting future trends, especially amongst the youth market segment, remains a challenge. Insights into consumer preferences could provide future directions for consumer electronics design and development.

It is possible to gauge market preference patterns by analyzing data obtained from social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Note the changes: The editor is familiar with the subject area of this content. Therefore, s/he has made suitable changes in the terminology used in the passage; note the terms highlighted in pink. A confusing sentence was split into two sentences, so that the meaning could be conveyed clearly.

The last sentence has been placed in a new paragraph; this makes the content appear better organized.

Which should I choose: editing or copyediting services?

The answer depends on what you’re looking for. Are you looking for a simple language check? Is the subject area you are writing about a commonly-understood one, i.e. one which a lay person could understand easily? Are you sure that you have expressed your ideas in a crisp and clear manner? Is some minor polishing all that’s needed? If so, copyediting should be enough. If, however, you’re looking for a thorough, critical, in-depth review of your work with a view to fine-tuning it until it expresses your ideas in the simplest and crispest language, so that it will be understood and appreciated by experts and amateurs alike, choose editing instead.



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