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The Differences Between Editing and Proofreading Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry

by Marie Valentine, Developmental Editor

Lots of editing types exist, from technical to fiction to poetry. In this article I briefly discuss editorial approaches to various arenas of writing.

Editing and Proofreading Nonfiction

Business editing requires copywriters who come up with the material. These clever folks know how to turn a phrase to use it commercially. Proofreaders must make the writing accurate. The words are often spare but must be concise and correct. Nothing casts a bad light on a commercial endeavor like a typo. Copy editors can also add insight into business campaigns.

Technical editing means getting the mechanicals right, not only of grammar but of processes that may be explained therein. Technical editing sometimes requires degrees in the subject being discussed, such as engineering. Other times, a nonexpert can show the glaring errors of comprehension a specialist may not recognize in their own prose.

Nonfiction editing projects can be as short as columns and articles or as long as a series of books on a topic. Sometimes documentary and new television scripts are written out. In addition to comprehensive copy edits, nonfiction projects gain from thorough fact-checking to ensure nonfiction status. However, some forms of memoir and creative nonfiction may be based on actual events with alterations to protect innocent parties.

Editing and Proofreading Fiction

Editing fiction requires some flexibility and breadth. A book can be edited developmentally, addressing concepts and structure, or proofed for glaring errors of grammar and spelling. Masters of craft and subject experts might suffer from poor formatting conventions, and editors can pat a longer manuscript into shape to the author’s benefit. A novel is a large project to bring to fruition; an editor provides help in a project so big.

Editing and Proofreading Poetry

Editing poetry is fun because rules can go out the window. The artistic license allowed by verse is fluid. Unless a poet wants to stick to strict rules of poem types, most poetry requires only the loosest form of editing. Poetry editors benefit from knowing the rules of grammar and not ignoring them by questioning if a misspelling or unusual capitalization is intentional to stop gaffes from occurring.

Most writing benefits from at least a cursory edit to catch typographical mistakes. Even editors need editors. It’s the way of the world to make errors; it’s only human. A professional editor can fix your prose or poetry while providing other insights, such as into publishing, issues of flow, structural feedback or while simply offering encouragement as well.