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The three stages of editing

If you have written a document that you intend to publish or circulate in the public arena, it needs to be presented so those readers will read and understand it.

Whether your document is a report, policy, article or newsletter, or a manuscript for a novel or non-fiction book, it needs to be self-edited it until you are satisfied that it is as clearly written as possible. Then it is ready for the next stage: editing.

The editor’s role

Generally speaking, the editor’s role is to make all the corrections or improvements necessary to ensure the document is presented consistently, clearly, and at the standard expected by the target audience or publisher.

The editor may need to correct the structure or the way the information is presented. The editor always corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting.

Three stages of editing

There are three main stages of editing, although they can overlap with one another: 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’ is sometimes called ‘proofreading’.

Manuscripts intended for graphic design, proofreading and publication usually needs to be edited at least three times, and some of those three stages may require more than one editing ‘pass’. Documents such as reports, articles or policies may only need to be line and copy edited, depending on how well they have been written and self-edited. The number of editing passes required always 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 ‘passes’ are needed, the below tasks must be completed and checked off prior to a document being either submitted to graphic design, or distributed as a Word document to your audience.

Structural editing

This is the first stage of editing, also called substantive or developmental editing. This level of editing may not be required for reports and articles, or for manuscripts that are already sound in structure. Number of editing passes: one or more. Go to: Structural editing

Line editing

This is the second stage of editing. This level of editing is almost always required for manuscripts, but it may not be required for reports and articles that have been self-edited to a high level. Number of editing passes: one or more. Go to: Line editing. 

Copy editing

This is the final stage of editing prior to the document being either submitted or sent to graphic design. This level of editing is always required for manuscripts, reports and articles. The role of copy editing is to create a ‘perfect’ error-free document prior to design, or distribution. Number of editing passes: one. Go to: Copy editing.

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

Image: Sally-Anne Watson Kane


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