I really like telling people I am an editor. I think for a long time I didn’t quite understand what it was to be an editor; as a kid, I needed examples to help me understand what things meant. Like being an editor, so it means that you edit something. But what? Anything can be edited, but I realized later that most editors work with media, and most of that media is written, aural, or visual.
For me, editing a manuscript is a great way to manage my capacity to overanalyze, and most errors you notice when editing are rather llamativo (Esp.; eye-catching, striking). However, not all errors involve punctuation, spelling, or transposition, and that’s where it can get tricky. It’s important for any editor to understand the difference between stylistic and substantive edits and also edits that change meaning.
Stylistic edits are often determined by a specific editorial style, publishing house style, dictionary, or the editor’s own preferences. Style guides are bases for how to proceed with the editing of a manuscript. Certain editorial styles (e.g., APA) leave the editor with a lot of freedom and advise the editor to, when in doubt, keep edits consistent. However, other styles (e.g., Chicago) are more specific and even go so far as to explain grammatical edits that the editor should make. House styles are usually more specific, with suggestions and rules that build on those from style guides to form a more universal style guide.
Substantive edits can seem less arbitrary than stylistic edits (because sometimes changing demonstrate to show seems unnecessary) and mainly involve facts and details. Although the line between copyediting and fact checking can be a thin one, I would say that fact checking involves pointing out and correcting substantive issues within a manuscript. Essentially, you, the fact checker or copy editor, are responsible for making sure that both someone who (a) has no knowledge of the subject matter and (b) is intimately familiar with the subject matter can grasp the basic idea and purpose and corroborate stated facts, respectively.
In essence, stylistic and substantive edits fall under the umbrella of meaning and seek to enhance the readability and clarity of any piece of written work. However, the whole idea of being an editor revolves around how the editor is not the author. The editor shapes the author’s ideas and, therefore, meaning is important so to reflect said ideas. Making stylistic and substantive edits, if done correctly and effectively, should not change meaning.