Editing

Avoid confusing, potentially embarrassing or litigious copy-editing errors. Learn to edit your work and the work of others.

What is Editing?

Editing is the act of critically reviewing a text with the goal of improving it in some way. For example, writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . .. edit texts to

Editing processes overlap with revision processes. What one writer might call editing another might call revision. However, in Writing Studies, editing and revision are separate processes:

  1. When editing writers focus on local matters such as organization, diction and sentence-level matters. In contrast, when revising, writers consider big picture matters such as whether the text addresses the constraints and affordances of the rhetorical context. In contrast,
  2. When revising, writers are engaged in strategic searching. They may still be trying to figure out what they want to say. In contrast, when editing, writers know what they say and they’re just trying to strip away the deadwood.

In turn, subject matter experts in Writing Studies distinguish between editing and proofreading:

  1. Editors adopt a somewhat broader critical lens: For instance, they could move whole paragraphs and sections around. In contrast, proofreaders focus on rules, citation conventions, diction, grammar, and mechanics.

Related Concepts: Global Perspective; Local Perspective; Proofreading; Revision; Structured Revision; Styles of Writing


Why Does Editing Matter?

Communication, literacy, interpretation—these are complex processes with loads of missing parts. Lots can go wrong.

So, imagine this situation: imagine you are deciding to purchase a used sports car and you reach out to a friend who knows a lot about older sports cars. You ask your friend if the price is right.

“No price too high” your friend tells you. So then you buy the car and drive it over to your friend to show it off. Well, what if your friend had meant to say “No, price to high.”

That single comma can matter in terms of dramatically altering how the document should be interpreted.

Sometimes it’s fine to ship off a text without editing it. In informal and personal occasions, you might even sound a bit odd if you edited your language for Standard English.

Yet the bottom line is that people may make judgments about your competencies as a researcher, thinker and communicator based on your writing-style. If you neglect editing,

  • your readers, listeners, users may not be able to understand you
  • your professionalism, your preparedness to get the job done, may be questioned.

How Can I Improve My Editing Skills?

After working hard to develop the substance of a message, you may be weary of it and eager to turn it over to your instructor. If possible, however, you are wise to set the draft aside and work on another task before trying to edit it.

It has become commonplace for postsecondary writing instructors in the U.S. to suggest that writers not worry about editing during the early stages of a writing project. This can be sound advice because time spent editing could be wasted if what you’re editing doesn’t respond to the demands of the school assignment or isn’t rhetorically sensitive. Plus, why edit a freewrite when the goal during freewriting is to develop ideas?

That said, sometimes little edits can be pauses, like calm breaths after a sprint on a long-distance run, that leads to insights.

The little changes that one makes during editing and proofreading can have a profound and disproportionate effect on its overall effect on the audience.

Guide to Evaluating Your Work at the Sentence Level

The following techniques can help you critically evaluate your document at the sentence level:

  1. Don’t try to copyedit a document all at once. Instead, alternate editing with other activities. For example, try editing after you first wake up, then after lunch, and then before dinner. Are you surprised that you can keep finding ways to improve the document?
  2. There are three strategies you can use to help ignore the content of your message and concentrate solely on grammatical, mechanical, and formatting errors:
    • Try reading your document sentence by sentence backwards
    • Place sheets of paper above and below each sentence in the document as you read through it
    • Place slashes between each sentence and then evaluate each one separately
  3. If you are using a personal computer, try printing the document with a different font, such as size 14 or size 10 point instead of the normal size 12.
  4. Look for mistakes to cluster. When you find one error in paragraph seven, for example, carefully examine the surrounding sentences to see if you had a lapse of concentration when you wrote and copyedited that section.
  5. Look for errors that you often make, such as sentence fragments or subject-verb agreement.