There is often confusion between the terms copy editing and content editing. At times one is taken to mean the other, and at other times they are taken to mean one and the same thing. While the fact is, they are two different things. True, they are both editing, but the difference is significant. So, what is this difference?
Copy editing (sometimes written as one word – copyediting), is checking a copy for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, verb tenses and other grammatical errors. It also involves checking for continuity, sentence structure, paragraph lengths, word choices, missed words, and the like. In other words, copy editing involves correcting the language of the text.
But what good is a copy written in perfect English, if the content isn’t right? This is where the content editor comes in.
Content editing (also called developmental editing or substantive editing), as the name implies, involves checking the content. It checks the content for factual errors, contradictions, and inconsistencies. If the content is fictional, it checks for discrepancies in the plot, character, or dialogue. It checks whether the theme has been developed (hence developmental editing) properly, or whether the sub-plots have been well integrated into the story line. In other words, content editing evaluates the content in detail.
In the publishing industry, a manuscript first goes to a content editor who evaluates the content, and if there is the need, suggests changes to the writer. The writer, with the help of the content editor, then re-writes the parts that need change. Once the content editor is satisfied and sure that the text will grab the attention of the reader, the manuscript goes to the copy editor. Sometimes the same person does both the content editing and the copy editing, but in either case, copyediting is the final stage before the manuscript goes to print.