A guest blog by Gill Pavey of Wordhouse Writing Services
The word ‘editor’ may be qualified in a number of ways such as commissioning, content, copy, developmental, structural, sub, substantive to name some of the varieties. How do you know who does what?
It’s not as hard as it first appears, even though one term means different things depending on which side of the pond you are on, and some of the others are duplicates in terms of function. ‘Editor’ is a generic term and, like the word ‘manager’, can be applied in a number of ways but in essence all editors are involved with preparing text for publication and making the document or book the best it can be.
In my last blog I outlined the differences between a copywriter and a proofreader, and one key difference was the stage in the process. It is a similar situation for editors; editors don’t create text, they all start off with somebody else’s manuscript or document. This may be online or hard copy, and anything from a press release to a novel.
So, what next? Well, that depends on two things-what the author or client wants to achieve, and what the text is. If we take a novel as an example, there’s far more to its construction than having a beginning, middle, and an end. The ‘story arc’, flow and pace need to be right. Do the key parts of the plot occur at the right time? What about the ‘voice’ of the characters, do they all sound the same? Fixing this, and a host of other features that make up a good novel, is the job of a structural editor, also known as a development editor, a substantive editor or in the US, a content editor (but see later).
In terms of the process, this is done as a first stage of editing; getting all the parts in the right order, perhaps deleting some subplots and characters, strengthening others; taking an overall view of the structure, story development and pace usually in close consultation with the author. The novel ends up with structural integrity; everything is in the right order, flows well and makes sense from start to finish.
At this point, it may go to a copy-editor. A copy-editor would also be the starting point on a shorter work such as an academic paper or article. The big difference here is that the copy-editor is going down to another layer of detail. However, there are no major re-writes, no changing paragraphs or sections around at this stage. But aspects such as sentence length, paragraph breaks, punctuation and grammar, points of style and consistency will all be scrutinised.
Depending on the publisher or client’s instructions, the copy-editor may be required to undertake some fact checking, laying out of tables and figures on the page and adequacy of captions, and flag up anything that might be a legal issue. Therefore, the piece remains fundamentally the same apart from being tidied up, polished and generally brought up to the industry standard.
Then we have the content editor; the non-US version. A content editor is a term that frequently suffers from multiple definitions, even in the UK and Ireland. There is the software definition; then there is the modified web content editor, or ‘web editor’ which might also mean software.
I saw a recruitment advert recently for a web content editor, specified as ‘someone who can write appealing, high-quality web content for an organisation and ensures the best SEO in conjunction with the marketing department or client (copywriters–does that sound familiar?). As an originator of material, this is strictly speaking not an editor at all, but a content manager.
A web content editor’s job should involve for example:
It’s important not to get too tied up with semantics though, especially where there may be different descriptions for the same function. To reiterate, every editor is there to prepare text for publication whether hard copy or online, and make it the best it can be. It’s mainly a matter of ensuring you clearly understand the editor’s role, so you can look for one that does the job you want with reasonable confidence that you have the right person.
So as you can see, the editor’s role is significantly different to that of the copywriter. The copywriter creates the original words – the copy – used to market or promote a business. Like the difference between copywriting and proofreading, editors too work in the world of words, but fulfil a very different role. Confusing, isn’t it?
More information on the role of a copy-editor can be found on the Society of Editor and Proofreaders’ website.
Gill Pavey of Wordhouse Writing Services is a copy-editor and proofreader with corporate and individual clients across Europe, the Middle and Far East.Current projects include academic papers and theses, commercial articles, novels and non-fiction. You can contact Gill Pavey by email or follow her on Twitter @ProofreaderGill.