The editing puzzle

Even the best writers need editors. Yet the word ‘editing’ alone doesn’t do justice to the process needed for the creation and dissemination of impactful content marketing.

G. Wells once wrote: “no passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”

Any editor who loves their job wouldn’t hesitate to agree. Yet the word ‘editing’ is too simplified for modern content marketing. It’s become a catch-all for a process that is – or at least should be – multi-layered. Put simply, different editors in the world of content marketing will offer different services.

While most marketers will have heard of the most commonly-used terms (developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading and line editing), they don’t necessarily understand the difference.

And a lack of understanding of editing services offered can create frustration on both sides. 

The ABCs of editing

It’s true that there can be some overlaps in definition, but these processes are distinct, as outlined below.

Developmental editing: Looking at the big picture. For any given piece, a good developmental editor will:

  • Give suggestions to improve the structure and flow
  • Ensure alignment with your brand and business objectives
  • Guide the tone of voice
  • Run fact checks for accuracy
  • Do a sanity check (for example, if something changes in the macroenvironment during the drafting stages, the content may need to be adjusted)
  • Help ensure your key messages/takeaways are coming across.


Line editing: An analysis and review of words and phrases used in a piece of content. A good line editor typically:

  • Analyses the choice of words, pace, and syntax of sentences for optimum impact
  • Pushes for greater conciseness in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs
  • Focuses on consistency and appropriateness of style.


Copyediting: Perhaps overshadowed by developmental and line editing, but just as vital. In a nutshell, it’s the process of review for inconsistencies, errors, and repetition. Copyeditors typically:

  • Check for errors in spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure
  • Remove excessive repetition
  • Ensure compliance with your style guide of choice.


Proofreading: Less about the story and words used, and more about technical errors and fine details. Proofreading is important to catch errors at the final stage, particularly for hardcopy printing. Proof-readers typically look for:

  • Incorrect formatting (bullet points and other indentations, page numbering etc.)
  • Proper use of punctuation
  • Missing or additional spaces
  • General typos (whereas a copyeditor tends to look broader).

Wait, so which do I need?

All the above should ideally be applied for most types of content.

A typical process for an article, for example, would be to start with a developmental and line edit (these are often offered as a combined service, as is the case for Financial Content Lab).

When receiving your edit back, you can generally expect a lot of corrections and suggestions – especially if a developmental and line edit have been combined. Try not to be discouraged, this just means your editor has done a thorough job. You don’t have to accept all the edits either, as some things can be unique to your organisation.

Once you’ve reviewed the edits and applied the required changes, a copyedit typically comes next. A proofread may not be necessary, as long as you’ve had a copyedit first as a minimum. But it’s worth thinking about to ensure every minor detail has been checked. It would be a shame to undo all the hard editing work with a sloppy layout.

What should I ask for?

While these definitions are largely understood by agencies and independent organisations that offer editing services, they won’t necessarily label their services in the same way. You should take care, therefore, to explain exactly the type of editing services you are looking for.

In Financial Content Lab’s case, we offer:

  • Editing: A combined developmental and line edit
  • Copyediting: As per the definition above.


A final piece of advice. Consider having your copyedit done by a different person to the developmental/line edit – or at least at a different stage. Editors are only humans, so adding that extra pair of eyes will help to ensure a flawless output.

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Sarah Datta

Sarah Datta

Founder and director of Financial Content Lab, I’m passionate about the Lab’s simple purpose: to help organisations produce quality content for their unique audiences.

Get to know me
Sarah Datta

Sarah Datta

Founder and director of Financial Content Lab, I’m passionate about the Lab’s simple purpose: to help organisations produce quality content for their unique audiences.

Get to know me

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