Levels of Editing and When You Need Them

Technical writers and editors have their own nuances to their work, which are not always understood or appreciated by others. One type of nuance is the “level of edit” you’re applying to a document. Generally there are three levels of editing, and it helps to clarify with your customer what they want before you start.

The Levels

Generally, there are three types of editing:

  • Proofreading
  • Copyediting
  • Structural or comprehensive editing

Proofreading is looking for the easy stuff, such as misspellings, grammar errors, improper punctuation, etc. Sometimes that’s really all people want, especially if they’re in a rush. That means the editor is going to take the content as a given. These are the sorts of checks when you need to get something out the door relatively quickly.

Copyediting is a bit more in-depth, as it incorporates proofreading as well as stylistic matters such as wording or wordiness. You’re still only focused on mechanics at this point, assuming that the author knows what s/he is writing and just needs you to make things sound/read better on the page.

Comprehensive editing combines all of the above plus the document’s content and structure: does it make sense? Is it in an order that tells an effective story? Is the document the proper length? Is the style consistent? Are there factual matters that need to be corrected or clarified? When my employers or customers want something cleaned up overall, “Bartized,” this is usually what they mean.


Mind you, I’ve had moments where, in the process of doing proofreading, I’ve caught a factual error or inconsistency or I’ve seen something worded poorly that could be made better with just a couple word changes. You’re not required to flag such things, but in my mind you’d be foolish and lazy not to: they’re paying for your brain, why not use it?


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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