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What is the Difference Between Content Editing and Copy Editing?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Content editing is the practice of writing, proofing, fact checking, and possibly programming web pages or other written documents. Sometimes it is specifically writing and programming web pages. However, it can also be part of the writing process for both fiction and non-fiction books in the publishing industry. Copyediting generally involves proofing and fact checking. It may involve a small amount of rewriting for either print or Internet sources, but usually does not include programming. Further the copyeditor may not read for content with the same scrutiny as the content editor does.

The copyeditor is usually the final frontier of the writing process, the last person to examine material before it goes to print. The content editor may be more intimately involved in the entire process of writing and finalizing documents for web or paper publication.

Computer programs do some types of content editing. For example, many programs can evaluate coding errors before a web page is published. However, as with programs that offer spell or grammar checks, a person must evaluate the final presentation of content, and may need to fix an error or two.

Some people work specifically in content editing fields, and may not only proof content and format it, but also write it. In fact, it is quite common for editing to include writing most of the content. For web programming companies, the editing may be done by one or more people, and may also mean interfacing with clients to assess their needs for both written content and website appearance.

Alternately, some practice content editing on a freelance basis. They might only edit material, and check content for errors, inconsistencies, contradictions or problems. They might practice light source code editing, but stick primarily to improving a client’s content. Given a client’s needs they might also write material, and then the site owner might format content appropriately.

For print productions, a content editor might work in a publishing house or on a freelance basis, specifically with authors. While copyediting would proof the book before it goes to press, content editing would mean evaluating the content of the work. A poor editor would miss inconsistencies of character, plot or dialogue.

Content editors in the publishing industry work specifically on the “meat” of books intended for publication. They examine things like thorough development of thematic elements. Especially, they look for inconsistencies. A factual book, for example, might draw two opposing conclusions that a content editor would catch. Ultimately, the editor is responsible for clarifying material and helping the writer be his or her best on page.

Content editing is very important for books written in series format. Lengthy series are more likely to show inconsistencies as they progress, and a content editor can help prevent common errors. If a character’s eyes are blue in one book, they can’t be brown in another. If a character’s mother dies in one book, the mother walking around and talking in the next book may put off readers.

Skilled content editing gets rid of material that would render text ridiculous. Copyeditors then may take over and polish the text looking for small errors. They might rewrite a sentence or two, but in general they correct grammatical or spelling mistakes. The end result of the work of both editors is logical and grammatical text.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By clintflint — On Dec 03, 2013

@Fa5t3r - I think, though, that's why you need both a copy editor and a content editor. The content editor will eventually get as close to the work as the author, if they are doing their job. That goes for any writing, whether it's an article or a novel.

The copy editor doesn't have to worry about the subject matter or anything like that. They can stay completely focused on the spelling and grammar and other mistakes that the others might have missed.

By Fa5t3r — On Dec 02, 2013

@irontoenail - Yeah, I think people have the impression that you can edit a novel like you edit a movie but it can be a lot harder. There are so many more components to pay attention to, that the ordinary reader isn't even going to notice.

You have to make sure that the sun is in the right place, that the characters are all doing what they are supposed to and so forth. I once heard an editor say that she realized only after her second read that one of the characters somehow managed to die twice in the course of the book. That's the kind of thing that content editing picks up and when an author has spent years writing a book it's surprisingly easy to miss that kind of thing.

By irontoenail — On Dec 02, 2013

If you are looking for an editor for your book you should double check with them about what exactly they are offering before you give them any money. If possible, get them to edit a small portion of your manuscript so you can see if you'll be a good fit.

If it's copyediting you want then that isn't such a big deal (although it can still be expensive, so make sure that you hire a good one so you only need it done once), but content editing requires quite a lot of collaboration between the editor and the author. They might have to make changes to the very fabric of your story, which isn't done lightly.

And an editor might not want to take any content editing jobs where they don't feel a connection to the work, for that reason. They might work on a book for months, so they have to want to see those words everyday for that amount of time.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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