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The three stages of editing

If you have written a document – whether it’s a report, policy, website, blog article or fiction or non-fiction manuscript – intended for submitted to an audience or published, it needs to be presented at the level expected by that audience.

Whether you have self-edited it once or several times, if your document contains all the necessary information and you are satisfied that it is as clear as possible, it is ready for the next stage of editing.

But what is editing?

The editor’s role

Generally speaking, the editor’s role is to make any corrections or improvements necessary to ensure the document is presented consistently and at the standard expected by the target audience or publisher. The editor may correct the structure, and always corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting.

Three stages of editing

Generally speaking, there are three main stages of editing: structural editing, line editing and copy editing. These stages are sometimes called different names. For example, ‘structural editing’ is often referred to as ‘developmental editing’; and ‘copy editing’ documents such as applications, policies and reports is sometimes called ‘proofreading’.

Manuscripts usually need three or more editing ‘passes’ (or stages) whereas other types of documents such as reports, policies, manuals or applications may only need one or two editing passes, or stages. The number of editing passes required depends on how well the document has been self-edited and the target audience or intended use of the document.

Regardless of how many editing stages, or ‘passes’, are needed, it is important that the below tasks have been completed prior to being submitted/published or sent to graphic design.

Structural editing

This is the first stage of editing, also called substantive editing or developmental editing, that ensures your manuscript is structurally sound.

Go to: Structural editing

Line editing

This is the second stage of editing most manuscripts, although if the standard of the manuscript is above average, this stage may not be necessary.

Go to: Line editing.

You may also like this article: What is the difference between copy editing and line editing?

Copy editing

This is the final stage of editing prior to the document being either submitted or sent to graphic design.

Go to: Copy editing.

For more articles about editing and proofreading, go to: Editing and proofreading.

This article is based on my own experience for over 20 years, editing and proofreading reports, policy documents and my own and others’ publications; self-publishing hardcopy publications; and publishing my website and articles online. Keep posted for future articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading.


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