Over the past few weeks I’ve outlined the three types of editing and where they apply in the writing process. And when you are aiming to be published, writing is a process.
As we’ve seen, editing isn’t just a quick pass through followed by publication. There are three types, each with their own separate demands – and skills demanded to do them:
1. Content editing – getting the large-scale content and structure of the writing correct (this might involve checking against a beat sheet, of which more anon).
2. Proof editing – making sure the content reads OK, grammar is correct, etc.
3. Line editing – making sure it’s letter-perfect, all letters, punctuation and so forth is right.
I often fear the distinctions are lost in this age where computers make it so easy to display and change manuscripts. That same ease of change also makes it easy to make mistakes.
The way around it is to change medium. In short – print out the manuscript. Then edit it. Using pen and ink. The old system. And see how much stuff you discover needs changing. I find it works for all three varieties of editing – and for me, particularly, content and line editing.
Why does this work? Part of it is because reading on paper differs, technically, from reading on screen. A study done here in New Zealand made clear that on-screen reading is up to thirty percent slower than reading on paper, and that line length has an effect. Certainly there’s no doubt that changing the medium changes the way we look at the material. Literally. You’ll be surprised what detail you spot on a printout – having missed it on screen.
Having the document as a printout also means you get an overview that’s impossible on screen. I’ll sometimes spread the pages out on the floor, step back and peruse. This ‘aerial’ view offers a one-glance structural overview (‘content edit’) you simply can’t get on computer, even via software that collapses material into headings. It gives a literal and complete way of measuring the proportions of the various components versus the length of the whole.
A printout also means you get a direct and different look at the specifics of the grammar and written content, including whether you name something or someone before they’re introduced (it happens).
Often it’s worth doing a second printout after all that’s been implemented, in order to do that final line-edit check. It’s just amazing what shows up on paper.
I figure it’s worth a try. Do you have an editing technique that works for you?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
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