Substantive editing focuses on the overall structure, content, and flow of a manuscript. When you engage an editor to perform substantive editing, they will make or suggest changes to the title, language, and style. But they will also make or suggest bigger changes to the organisation of your paper. I would suggest that this is the job assigned to the supervisor of the student in academic editing or in the case of fiction editing, it would be the role of the editor.

I found this table online which may answer your question:

Here are definitions of substantive editing by two authorities on copy-editing:

Substantive editing aims to improve the overall coverage and presentation of a piece of writing, its content, scope, length, level and organization.  At this stage the editor will normally look out for legal problems such as libel and plagiarism and for any quotations or illustrations that may need permission from the copyright owner (Judith Butcher, Caroline Blake & Maureen Leach Butcher’s Copy Editing Cambridge University Press 2007, pp 1-2).

Extensive revision of an author’s text for literary style and sometimes engagement with content (Amy Einsohn & Marilyn Schwartz The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications 4th ed University of California Press 2019, p 477).

In essence, then, substantive editing is much more comprehensive than simply stylistic or structural editing, and in fact it usually includes both of them, plus copy-editing. It is the kind of editing that an editor of school textbooks is more likely to engage in because such texts are so multifaceted and there is so much to take care of virtually on every page – plus, of course, compliance with the curriculum..

For more information on levels of editing, click here.

This useful information was supplied on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 3:34 PM by two ever-helpful PEG members in response to a question on PEGforum.