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What is Developmental Editing?

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Update 11/16/23: This post has been moved from my previous site and some links may not work properly. Thank you for your understanding.

Though there are many approaches, developmental editing primarily addresses content and organization. As the title suggests, developmental editing will help you develop your book. So what does it mean to develop something?

Merriam Webster gives us the following definitions for develop:

· to set forth or make clear . . .

· to make visible or manifest

· to work out the possibilities of

· to expand by a process of growth[1]

By those definitions, developmental editing will help you discover the possibilities of your draft and grow it to become the vision you first intended for it. It can involve suggestions for rewriting and reorganization, as well as how to shape what has already been written.[2]

My developmental editing also includes substantive editing, which is a little more detailed and works “to improve style or to eliminate ambiguity, reorganizing or tightening disorganized or loosely written sections”.[3] These are mainly “big picture,” content-oriented changes, and do not involve mechanical corrections for grammar, spelling, syntax, etc.

For nonfiction, developmental editing will uncover inconsistencies, lack of clarity, inaccuracies, and readability issues. It will also help you to find the theme of the work and to make sure that everything else is working to focus on that theme while serving your audience.[4]

For fiction, developmental editing will do all that and also help to shape story elements, plot, and character arcs.

For any genre, there is a fair amount of brainstorming, research, and writing skill involved in developmental editing. A developmental editor usually becomes well invested in a work during this process, and should thus be highly knowledgeable in the subject matter.

After a good developmental edit, you will still have plenty of work to do, and it often requires more than one pass to get things refined enough for mechanical editing. But in the end, your draft may be close to the masterpiece you hoped it could become, and your writing skills will likely improve dramatically!


Editor’s Note:

Each editor has preferred terms for editing levels and parameters for what each level of editing entails. These are my definitions, based on numerous sources and my experience and expertise.


[1] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “develop,” Accessed December 1, 2022,[2] The Chicago Manual of Style Online, s.v. “2.48: Levels of manuscript editing and who is responsible.” Accessed February 13, 2023.[3] The Chicago Manual of Style Online, s.v. “2.50: Substantive Editing.” Accessed February 13, 2023.[4] Christian Editor Connection, “Types of Editing,” Accessed February 13, 2023. 

Photo Credits:

stock.adobe @ fabioderby, @ vvoe

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