• Lauren Straley

What is Developmental Editing? (And How It Can Help You!)

Not all editing is built alike. Editing is a diverse field that contains many specialties, but there is one thing each specialty has in common: they all make writing better. Editing, like writing, is a process and it takes a lot of time to get it just right.

Anton Chekov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining: show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

These beautiful words remind writers to guide their readers through an intricate visual experience with their words. Editors are the guidepost for their writer–the gateway to out-pour the beautiful light generated by a piece of writing.

There are 4 main types of editing:

1. Developmental Editing/Structural Editing

  • Otherwise known as big picture editing. Developmental editors look at a work through the lens of a satellite. They see how each piece is moving and how to arrange it to optimize organization, structure, tone, and style.

2. Line Editing

  • A style of editing that looks at the work by paragraph. Line editing focuses on the style, tone, and flow between each section while also offering some added grammar checks.

3. Copy editing

  • The type of editing most people are familiar with. Copy editors are writers’ heroes as they are instrumental in combing through the grammar, syntax, and logic of each sentence.

4. Proofreading

  • Proofreading focuses on editing by the word. The best proofreaders will be able to spot when a writer has used the same word in a sentence twice or forgets to capitalize the name of their mother. Often the final stage of editing, proofreaders make sure the final draft is polished and clean.

Each type of editing narrows in on a specific aspect of the text and its function and relationship to the work as a whole. While each one offers invaluable insights into the text, developmental editing is one of the most useful practices for any piece of writing.

What Do Developmental Editors Do?

​ A developmental editor (DE) wears many hats. They act as the story’s cartographer, mapping out the clearest way to the end; the plot’s astrologer, charting new paths, combinations, and meanings for your work; the narrative painter, brushing even strokes across each chapter. In essence, the developmental editor evaluates the structure, organization, and tone of the piece to optimize readability.

As the story cartographer, they offer structural commentary in order to increase reader comprehension and narrative flow. The bulk of the DE’s work will be in the structure and organization work. Their role as the plot (or body) astrologer allows them to offer suggestions for changes to the narrative events in order to better achieve the writer’s intentions. DE’s often suggest many changes to the body of the work. Truman Capote even said that “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

A DE also visits the tone of the piece’s language along with the affect and mood of each chapter and how they bleed together. As the narrative painter, the DE will work with the writer to smooth and standardize the tone throughout the piece.

Narrative accuracy is also an important part of the developmental editing process. A DE will make sure that the events detailed in the work make sense and that the events are true (if the work claims as such). It is important to note that ultimately it is the author’s responsibility to be sure their work is original and factual.

Fiction vs Nonfiction

Developmental editors work with both fiction and nonfiction texts, but the work they do will vary depending on the genre.


If a DE is working with an author on their novel, they will focus on a couple of key things:

  • Character discrepancies. For example, if John has blue eyes in Chapter 2 but brown in Chapter 7.

  • Plot holes. ​Let’s say that Janet is kind and forgiving in one situation, but acts cruel and vindictive in another. This character contradiction is a plot hole a DE would watch out for. Other examples of plot holes are illogical events, impossible events, unresolved storylines, and continuity issues.

DE’s working in fiction often advise the author on their story map. A story map is a document that lays out the events and actions of each character throughout the book. Storyboarding can be a blast! You can be like Truman Capote and cut out strips of paper and move sequences around to see how they affect the plot.

Fiction writing would also require a DE to be well-versed in the historical accuracy of the piece should it be necessary. For example, you wouldn’t want a book about a young dressmaker in the 19th century to be corresponding to anyone via email.


Nonfiction works like scholarly monographs, articles, biographies, e-books, and blogs can also benefit from the work of a developmental editor. In nonfiction, the DE will focus on the validity of the argument and how each chapter works to enforce the author’s position.

The DE would ensure that each key point made logical sense both in the content themselves and the order that they are presented in. The continuity of the key points will work to strengthen the overall argument.

Accuracy in nonfiction is key. The DE will work with the author to analyze and correct any errors in fact that exist in the piece.

How a DE Can Help With Marketing Content

Marketing content is an important way to interact with your clients and attract new leads. Having an experienced editor working on these projects can help bring added value to the content you provide your audience. One example is with a lead magnet.

A lead magnet is a piece of content that is used to inspire your audience to connect with you in a more formal capacity. Its function is to help you build relationships with your audience by providing them with wonderful, helpful, and holistic content.

Lead magnets come in many forms including long-form blog posts, e-books, white papers, feature articles, and webinars. Since lead magnets are crucial to the business of any successful inbound marketer, it is imperative that they are done right.

Collaborating with a DE on your marketing content will help you clearly define a message to your audience and make sure that your readers get the most out of the content you provide them. DEs are subject-matter experts who know your content the way you do and want to help make your writing the most accessible that it can be.

The bottom line

DEs are your secret weapon for tailoring your content!

It is important to know that the developmental editing process differs from other forms of editing, but it is a crucial step to creating the right type of content and sending a polished and professional message to your audience.

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