Essential writing skills: introducing the three sorts of editing

I’m often asked how it is that I manage to write so much in such a short time. The key word here is ‘process’ – and when it comes to process, one of the biggest time pay-offs is editing. It’s a process, like any other – and a system can pay dividends.

Wright_SydneyNov2011Editing falls into three categories:

1. Content editing. This is what a lot of people think of as ‘editing’. It is also known as ‘crafting’ or ‘polishing’. It’s about content – it’s about what’s being said, about the wording, and about the structure. It’s what the author does to go from that archetypal bad first draft to the final that’s submitted to the publisher.

2. Proof editing. This process is essential to any finished book. It’s the first process applied by a commercial publisher to a manuscript being readied for publishing. It involves having an independent editor read the manuscript and amend it for consistency and sometimes tone. It’s an essential part of the quality assurance process. Familiarity breeds contempt, so if you’re self-publishing, consider finding a proof-editor to cast that “fresh pair of eyes” across the manuscript.

3. Line editing. After all changes have been implemented – including any last fixes from the author – the proof-edited manuscript is line-edited for ‘literals’. These are literal typographic errors, consistency of double or single quote marks, getting the right sorts of dashes – hyphen, em or en – and so forth. It is a mechanical task but essential for quality control. Although cost constraints have strangled a lot of the old trad processes, most publishers do this at least twice – once before the MS is typeset, once afterwards.

All these processes are quite different, and line editing – particularly – is systematic. Over the next few weeks I’ll be visiting each of them in detail. Watch this space.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

7 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: introducing the three sorts of editing

        1. The invisibility of the editing is a testament to the quality of the editor – preserving the original feel while giving the whole a ‘quality assurance’ check. That unobtrusiveness is maybe the hardest part of the whole task.


  1. Once upon a time I worked as a proofreader for a publishing company. Oddly, once you’ve done it for awhile, it’s kind of like touch-typing on a QWERTY keyboard — a skill that never really goes away, although you DO have to pay attention, and it is just about as boring as learning to type!


    1. Absolutely true! I find it’s quite difficult to do line-proofing myself, because (a) if I’m tired I often misread letters or reverse the order of them while reading, which isn’t great for that sort of proofing, and (b) as you say, it’s really, really boring – yet demands HUGE attention.


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