Services: The editing process

The complete editing process includes structural or ‘substantive editing, detailed editing for sense and checking for consistency’[1], as well as proof-reading. This process involves a lot of detail work, so it’s all too easy to get stuck in that detail thus missing important issues in the overall structure or logic of a document, a section or even a paragraph.

A useful analogy for addressing this issue is the photographic one of knowing when to zoom in and when to zoom out when considering different aspects of a document, so that one can effectively edit and proof-read it.

Zooming out is essential to making decisions about the overall document. Zooming right in, focuses on the smallest detail. And there are infinite positions between these two extremes, the skill being in knowing when to zoom in and when to zoom out.

Content Style Guide

During the course of the editing process, in order to achieve consistency, I may call on you to make decisions about your preferences for certain content style issues. I then attach those preferences to your existing style guide if you have one or if you don't have one, they form the basis of a personal or organisational content style guide.

If you’re not familiar with Content Style Guides, go to ‘Proof-reading’ and see the paragraph starting: Checking the following against the Style Guide. This will give you an idea of the sort of things a Content Style Guide would include.

Structural Editing

When doing structural or substantive editing, I begin by zooming right out, just as Google Earth does – way further than a bird’s eye view - more a space ship’s view - of the entire earth from different angles, getting a sense of the contents of the entire document. Does the document:

Then zooming in and out as I explore whether it:

I discuss with you any suggestions for structural changes that may be necessary; they could involve some rewriting.

We decide who will best do which of the changes, and once we are both happy, we implement changes, moving headings and content, including any new material, into the new structure; zooming out to check the flow of the new structure and how it hangs together; zooming in to ensure that the transitions are seamless.

I zoom in on particular problems and zoom out to put them into perspective.


Copy-editing involves checking a document for clarity, consistency and correctness. I was trained, and it has been my experience, that it pays off tremendously to start off copy-editing by zooming out initially – to look at the structure and hierarchy of the headings of the document:

Then I zoom in a bit, maintaining the flexible zoom adjustment, to check the style and consistency of:

Zooming to read the content of the document:

Copy-editing doesn’t include re-writing or incorporating major changes or new material; these are part of structural editing.

Checking facts and permissions are an entirely separate exercise, which I don’t normally do.


Proof-reading clearly got its name from reading the proofs that come back from the designer or printer. That is where the word originated, and that is certainly one of the main calls for proof-reading.

However with the electronic age, proof-reading is often called for when there are no proofs as such. In these instances proof-reading is simply the final phase in the editing process.

When documents come for proof-reading they have usually been edited at least once and so generally require fewer changes.

On the whole, proof-reading involves a lot of zoomed in work, but the principle of zooming in and out when required still applies – it’s all relative. And the principle of starting out zoomed out is still best.

Proof-reading is about checking. Carefully checking the document against the original or against a previously edited version:

Checking the following against the Style Guide - for consistency and correctness:

Proof-reading involves checking for consistency and correctness - without making unnecessary changes. Should any sentences still be difficult to understand, minor essential changes are made.

Should a paragraph or section need major changes, this will be brought to your attention.

Proof-reading is not editing, and if proof-reading printers proofs, changes are costly.

‘Second-eye’ proof-reading

Once a document has been edited and proof-read, it is very useful to do a final ‘second eye’ proof-read, without reference to any previous versions of the document. This ‘fresh look’ often serves to identify potentially embarrassing errors.

This may be all you need from an outside professional.

[1] The three kinds of editing outlined by Butcher, J Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers Cambridge University Press
[2] Much of the structure and contents of this copy-editing section was sourced from the manual of McGillivray Linnegar Associates’ Basic Editing and Proofreading course, with permission.