The Definition of Editing

Editing involves making revisions to and suggestions about the content of a document. It includes improving the accuracy of language, the flow, the organization and structure, and the overall readability of the text. It also involves checking for grammatical and spelling errors.

In other words, editing involves a detailed review of a document while making additions, deletions, or other changes to conform to a specific, agreed-upon standard in order to prepare the document for a specific audience. A document should be edited at least once before it is proofread.

Substantive vs. Mechanical Editing

An editor must have knowledge of the style to which the document at hand must conform and must have the ability to make quick, sound decisions. Editors must also pay attention to every word on the page; however, the types of changes an editor makes depend on whether the client requires substantive editing or mechanical editing.

Substantive editing (also called developmental editing) deals with the organization and presentation of existing content. Substantive editing involves rephrasing for smoothness or improved clarity; reorganizing, reducing, or simplifying documentation; and modifying explanatory tables, graphs, and charts.

Mechanical editing requires an editor to look for consistency in capitalization, spelling, hyphenation, and table formatting, as well as the use of abbreviations, punctuation, and numbers. An editor must also root out differences between the text and the tables, illustrations, and citations. While mechanical editing may seem a lot like proofreading, remember that editing is more comprehensive than proofreading. Mechanical editing can affect the content of the document, while proofreading should never affect the content of the document. We'll talk a little bit more about the differences between editing and proofreading shortly.

What Makes a Good Editor?

Editing requires not only English language skills but also the intuition to know, at a glance, what is right or wrong on the page. An editor must gain a "feel" for a project's meaning and intention.

An editor must look for consistency and clarity and should be able to look at any piece of writing without bias.

An experienced editor recognizes unusual figures of speech and peculiar usage. He or she will know when to make an actual change, when to suggest one, and how to do so tactfully. Helping the author find his or her "voice" is a part of this process.

In work done by an effective editor, the mechanics are seamless and nothing is taken away from the author's message or the reader's experience.

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