The Three Levels of Editing: Proofreading, Copyediting and Substantive Editing

Document Editing Entails Numerous Activities

The time, effort, and cost of scientific editing tasks vary depending on the level of editing required. These levels are defined in numerous ways with different levels of granularity. I prefer to think of 3 primary levels of editing (from the least to the most editorial involvement).

Proofreading corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This is what most people think of when the think of “editing.” When I proofread a document, I start at the end and work backwards!

Copyediting corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, misplaced modifiers, changes in tense, problems in parallelisms, and the use of inappropriate language. Also, copyediting includes changing passive voice to active voice where appropriate, and developing a consistent style and tone. I find that most authors have trouble copyediting their own documents.

Substantive (heavy) editing is a form of editing that many clients are not familiar with. This includes all of the features of copyediting with attention to the structure, organization, and concepts central to the document. This eliminates wordiness, triteness, and jargon, and ensures smooth transitions, an appropriate pace, a uniform tone, and a clear focus. Substantive editing overlaps with developmental editing, which entails a level of content creation–devising concepts, writing, and re-writing a document.

Scientific editors are often skilled teachers and researchers with many years of experience reading, writing and editing scientific documents. The advantage of hiring a scientific editor is that they often have a high-level of scientific expertise that they can apply to the editorial process as needed.


biochemistry editorLearn more about ScienceDocs Editor Dr. Wernette


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