How to choose the correct editing service

People have a variety of reasons for looking for editing services. Maybe you want some independent input and ideas, maybe your proposals keep being rejected or maybe a journal reviewer mentioned you need to improve the quality of your writing. Whatever the reason, it’s important to know that there isn’t just one type of ‘editing’. And that you need to choose the right service for you and your document.


So, what are the main editing-related services?


Common services are substantive or developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading and formatting. I’ll explain a little about each one below so you can start thinking about which is best for you.


Substantive or developmental editing

This type of editing isn’t about finding and fixing your grammar mistakes. It’s about helping you improve your content so it better meets the purpose of the document and the needs of your audience.


For example, if you are responding to a call for proposals, the editor will help you make sure your proposal gives the funder the information they need, in the best way. You won’t have missing context, inadequate detail or unanswered requirements (if you follow the editor’s advice!).


This type of service can be helpful if you are a technical specialist or subject matter expert who’s been asked to produce training content or other types of communication materials. The developmental editor can help you adapt your content to meet the needs of a non-technical audience.


A developmental editor is like a writing coach or super helpful colleague!


Copy editing

This is what many people think of as ‘editing’. The editor will work to improve your writing, for example by making your sentences grammatically correct and more readable and concise. The editor will increase the consistency within your text and check that you are delivering the intended meaning. They will also do some basic fact checking and check links and references.


The copy editor might do some rearranging of sentences and paragraphs but they are not going to look at restructuring the whole document or manuscript. Likewise, the editor might point out where content is missing, but won’t look at helping develop that missing text. If you are unsure or unhappy about the document as a whole, you should get developmental editing before moving to copy editing.


A copy editor will add polish and readability to your documents, making them more professional and engaging.


I offer developmental editing and copy editing. You can read more about these on my Copy and developmental editing page.



Proofreading is often confused with copy editing. But it is a distinct service that should only be requested for a finished document. Proofreading is all about the small things and doesn’t really look at the document as a whole.


The proofreader will find the missing commas, typos and inconsistent spacing but they are not going to check whether the document meets the brief, is suitable for the audience or fulfills requirements.


A proofreader has an eye for detail and using one is a vital step if you are going to publish your document online or, especially, on paper. They will save you time and money as you shouldn’t need to fix errors after publication.



Formatting is different from the services above as it doesn’t focus on the words in the document. It’s mainly about the look – the fonts, styles, colours, spacing, captions, margins, references etc.


A copy editor or proofreader will make some fixes to formatting, especially for larger errors, but their focus is going to be mainly on the words. Using the services of a formatter can be really helpful (and a timesaver!) if the journal, funder, donor or publisher has strict requirements about the look and formatting of your document.


Now you know more, do want to start using an editor?

Working with an editor can help you make sure your website content, report, proposal or grant application are looking and sounding great. If your business, organisation, university or consultancy doesn’t have an in-house editor, why not get in touch with me? (services@njball-services.com)


All quotes are obligation free and when possible, I offer discounted rates for writers and organisations in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).