What Are the Steps in Editing a Document?

    When you’re editing a document, where should you begin? Document editing can be a tedious process, but it is also crucial for all writers. The way you choose to go about editing a document can depend on your personal style and what you like to focus on. However, the editing process as a whole comprises several key steps that you should never leave out regardless of the order you choose to perform them in. Let’s look at the steps involved in document editing and explore different editing methods to learn more about this process.

    What Does Editing Mean?
    What is document editing anyway, and why do we edit documents? “Editing” in general means fixing problems in a written document so that it has no mistakes and is easy to read. The best books and papers have been through multiple rounds of editing. There are several different stages in the editing process, which are summarized below.

    Stage 1: Content editing (Substantive editing)
    When asked to perform document editing, most editors and editing services begin with the step of content or substantive editing. Substantive editing is when an editor reviews the whole manuscript and suggests changes to the organization, logical flow, presentation, structure, or content. When performing this step of editing, many editors choose to read the document all the way through first just to get an idea about it. Reading a document all the way through can also help you get more clarity about the way it is organized and identify any arguments that are not fully made or that need additional support or evidence.

    Stage 2: Copyediting (Line editing)
    The second step in the editing process is copyediting, also known as line editing. Copyediting focuses on fixing the mechanics of writing, meaning phrasing, grammar, and spelling/capitalization. It is also called line editing because the editor must carefully read each line of the document when performing document editing. This stage of the editing process can sometimes be broken down into several steps if the editor requires clarifications in phrasing or confirmation of suggested word changes.

    Stage 3: Proofreading
    The final step of the editing process is proofreading. A proofreader looks for the finer details to make sure each part of the document is perfect. Proofreaders check spelling, grammar, and capitalization as well as formatting and consistency. A good proofreader makes sure that author names are spelled correctly, that words like “policy-maker” and “copy-editor” are hyphenated throughout the text, and that proper title case is used in headings. They mark any missing citations, words, errors, or small formatting changes.

    Making an Editing Plan
    How can you ensure your document gets the proper editing it needs? You have several options, one of which is to hire an editing service. If you don’t have the time or finances to find the best editing service, you can do it yourself or enlist the help of colleagues or friends. If you decide to do your own editing, you will need to create an editing plan.

    The first step of your plan for document editing should be to decide the order in which you will perform the stages mentioned above. Traditionally, an editing service or professional editor will do document editing in the order the stages are listed: content editing, followed by copyediting and proofreading. This is because it often saves lots of time to fix the bigger issues in a document first, which often involves adding or deleting sections, before looking for smaller technical errors. However, if you are editing your own work, you might find it easier to first review the document for mechanical errors before you make bigger changes. Every writer is different. What is most important is to find an editing process that works best for you.

    Editing Checklist
    No matter how you decide to perform document editing, you should create a checklist of the most important elements in your writing that should be reviewed. You can follow this checklist and even add your own points to it. In this list, copyediting and proofreading items are labeled technical, while substantive editing items are labeled stylistic. You can see there is some overlap. This is to be expected, as some stages of the editing process often coincide with each other.

    Type of RevisionItemDescription
    TechnicalGrammarDo your verbs and nouns agree? Are your adverbs in the right place? Did you use the correct conjunctions and prepositions?
    TechnicalSpellingIs your paper in American or British English? Is your spelling correct? Are there any “hidden homonyms” (to, too, two)?
    TechnicalPunctuationWhat citation style are you using? Is your paper in American or British English? These will tell you if you should use a single or double quotation, if commas and periods should be inside or outside the punctuation, etc.
    Technical/StylisticSentence structureDo you avoid passive voice? Is the subject in your sentence clear? Are there any sentences that are too long or complex? Does each sentence contain a single idea?
    StylisticLogical flowDo your paragraphs make sense? Does your argument flow logically? Is it easy for the reader to follow you from A to B?
    StylisticParagraph structureDo your paragraphs begin with a topic sentence? Do they end with a sentence which transitions smoothly into the next paragraph? Do they flow smoothly from A to B?
    TechnicalVerb tense agreementDo your sentences consistently use past/present/future? Is it clear when things happen?
    Technical/StylisticWord usageAre you using words in the appropriate context? Are you explaining any new or specialized terms clearly? Is your paper written at a level appropriate for your target audience?
    TechnicalCitation styleCitation style isn’t just about references—it includes guidelines for headings, organization, punctuation, and capitalization. Are you adhering to the required formatting?
    TechnicalCapitalization and hyphensAre you capitalizing words correctly and consistently throughout the paper? Do you hyphenate words consistently throughout the paper?

    Whether you edit your own document or hire an editing service, knowing the steps of the editing process will help you in your writing. If you do decide to hire an editing service, never fear- it is easy to find the best editing services online. No matter what, don’t skip the editing process!