Editing refers to the processes rhetors engage in to refine their texts prior to publication or submission to clients, teachers, and other readers. For instance, editing may involve

  • reorganizing a document so it is more informative and persuasive;
  • making diction changes to adjust the tone for an intended audience;
  • changing the sentence structure or organization of sentences in a paragraph; and
  • proofreading a document to eliminate word-level and sentence-level errors.

When editing, writers read through their texts, line-by-line, looking for problems related to Cliches, Coherence, Concision, Concrete Language, Diction, Editing, Figurative Language, Point of View, and Sentence Structure,

Editing vs Revision

Editing is quite similar to revising in the sense that revision also calls for openness to critique, self regulation, and critical thinking. The difference between editing and revision concerns scale. When revising, rhetors are still trying to decide what they want to say and how they want to say it. Thus, when revising, writers are broadly focused on rewriting from a global perspective: after thinking hard about their rhetorical situation, they may ultimately decide to delete an entire project.

In contrast, editing involves refining existing content. Thus editing processes are more rule-bound than revising processes. So, for example, when a writer keeps the gist of the sentence the same but edits for economy, she is editing. In contrast, when she throws away the first three of four pages she wrote as non responsive to the needs of her intended audience, that’s revision.

Editing is a form of procedural knowledge: it involves taking the declarative knowledge of style and applying that knowledge to editing practices. For example, writers use their declarative knowledge of grammar conventions to edit run-on sentences and sentence fragments. They may use their knowledge of mechanics to edit errors of modification and parallelism. And so on.

Editing vs. Proofreading

Proofreading is even more specialized than revising or editing. It involves involves checking a text for Grammar, Mechanics, Punctuation, Diction, and Spelling.

When during the writing process should you consider Editing?

Once you believe a draft conveys the basic information you want your readers to understand, after you have responded to substantive critiques and engaged in sustained self-critique of the document, you can begin editing. 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, set the draft aside and work on another assignment before trying to edit it.

It has become commonplace for postsecondary writing instructors 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 reflection, that leads a writer finding ways to engage readers.

Somewhat understandably, after the trials of information literacy, critique, and revision, writers can feel thoroughly exhausted. Even a topic that originally excited them and one they might be proud about having written about can seem boorish after endless hours of work. And thus it’s not surprising that aspiring writers may overlook editing and proofreading. Yet the little changes that one makes during editing can have a profound and disproportionate effect on its overall effect on the audience.