Services: The editing process
The complete editing process includes structural or ‘substantive editing, detailed editing for sense and checking for consistency’, 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.
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:
- Hang together as a whole?
- Follow a logical sequence, flowing smoothly?
- Need any reorganising or restructuring?
Then zooming in and out as I explore whether it:
- Needs to be condensed or expanded in parts?
- Needs any of these interventions:
- Adapting the level it’s pitched at for the target audience?
- Introducing bulleted or numbered lists?
- Creating tables?
- Any other structural issues?
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:
- Is it divided into sections?
- Are there chapters or main headings within the sections?
- How many levels of headings are there within each chapter or main heading?
- Is the style of headings at each level appropriate and consistent?
- If a heading doesn’t seem to fit, is there a way round it without introducing another level?
- What about the spacing for the different levels of headings – this is part of the style
- And the fonts, font-sizes, bolding, italics and hyphenation, for the different levels of headings?
Then I zoom in a bit, maintaining the flexible zoom adjustment, to check the style and consistency of:
- Tables and figures as well as their captions
- Bullets and numbering
- Footnotes or endnotes
- Quoted material
Zooming to read the content of the document:
- Does it make sense? Is it clear?
- Do I need to clarify the meaning?
- Correct grammar or spelling?
- ‘Translate’ jargon? (unless intended solely for an audience steeped in the jargon)
- Adapt tables?
- Are the following correct and consistent:
- Spelling, particularly of names, numbers, foreign words, technical terms, words with alternative spellings?
- Rand values?
- Fonts and font sizes?
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:
- Is all the copy present and correct?
- Are the graphics, figures, tables in place – or have appropriate placeholders been provided for them to be dropped in?
- Is everything in the order it’s supposed to be in?
- Is the page numbering correct?
- Do the page numbers on the Contents page or the Index, tie up with the actual page numbers?
- Does the wording of the Contents match the actual wording of the chapters or headings?
- Have all marked changes from the previous edit been implemented?
Checking the following against the Style Guide - for consistency and correctness:
- Spacing of headings, sub-headings, paragraphs, lines, indents and between each sentence and word
- Fonts, font-sizes, bolding, italics and hyphenation, for headings, sub-headings, body text, tables and figures?
- Spelling, particularly of names, numbers, Rand values, foreign words, technical terms, and words with alternative spellings
- Quotation marks
- Bullets and numbering
- Tables and figures
- And so on …
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.
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.
 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.