the editing process in a nutshell

As you wrangle your writing toward its finished form, knowing some terminology about the editing process can give you more power over the quality of what you’re producing and more control over its journey from beginning to end.

Whether you do all the editing yourself or get help, it’s effective to do revisions in a particular order, so the same tasks aren’t repeated more often than necessary. For example, you might as well wait to correct details with a fine-toothed comb until the basic content is organized and in place.

STRUCTURAL or SUBSTANTIVE EDITING occurs early in the process and involves figuring out the piece’s organization and clearing up issues of logic and pacing. In this phase, the emerging text is examined in light of the goals for the piece, making sure the whole is on track.

Once overall content is in place in a way that makes sense and feels right, the next step is COPYEDITING (words as content are sometimes called COPY). In the copyediting phase, grammar, punctuation, formatting, and standardization are tweaked, and corrected.

Up to and during copyediting, a STYLE SHEET is often created, in which the standards used for spelling and formatting are listed. This is handy as a time-saving reference during subsequent editing and proofing phases.

A DRAFT is any version that’s not FINAL. A COPYEDITED FINAL can be proofread. PROOFREADING at this stage involves taking a careful look at anything that may be off or amiss with the copyedited final. Including this step can save time and money later, by resolving problems before entering the design phase.

Using the PROOFED COPY, a designer produces GALLEY PROOFS. It’s good to proofread again at this stage, to find and correct errors that may have occurred during the design process and to make sure everything from the copy proof has been included in the designed version.

The PROOFREAD GALLEYS are ready to be PUBLISHED (even if it’s from the printer beside your desk).

Two things can make a big difference in the quality of your published final. One is bringing in other eyes besides your own, like by lining up pals who are aces at handling certain editing stages. The other is allowing time for as many editing phases as possible.

Edit well. You’ll end up with a quality product. And you’ll have the lingo to prove you knew what you were doing.


Related reading: making peace with revision, final edit checklist

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