Editing Knots Untangled


What's the difference between structural editing, copyediting and proofreading?

These three terms describe three levels of intervention in a text - basically, how deep an editor goes or how much they change.

The Australian standards for editing practice (2e, p. viii) describe them as follows:

  • 'Substantive editing (... sometimes called, structural editing) is assessing and shaping material to improve its organisation and content. It is editing to clarify meaning, improve flow and smooth language.

  • 'Copyediting is editing to ensure consistency, accuracy and completeness.

  • 'Proofreading is examining material after layout to correct errors in textual and visual elements.'

That is, proofreading is the final step, carried out immediately prior to submission or publishing to catch any minor errors or typos. Large or important documents often go through several iterations of editing: one or more substantive edits, one or more copy edits, and a final proofread.

In practice, there is generally considerable overlap between the three levels. In my case, if you commission me to do a structural edit, I will also make the same changes I would in a copyedit or a proofread. If you request a proofread, I will make some minor copyediting changes, but I will be conservative - I am more likely to make suggestions as comments. I will not make any structural editing changes, although I may suggest them as comments in the document or in my Editor's Notes.

How long will my document take?

The turnaround time depends on my workload. As a guide, I can generally process around 10,000 words per day, although I do prefer to do my final pass over a document with fresh eyes after a night's sleep. That is, in an ideal world even a 5,000-word paper would be a 48-hour, rather than a 24-hour, job.

If you have an urgent turnaround or a long document, please get in touch with as much advance notice as possible, and I'll ensure I have the days set aside to complete your document in time.

Can an editor really help me that much?

Yes! Even experienced writers benefit from an editor's help - after all, when you've been focusing in on the details of a manuscript for a while, it's easy to get caught up in the details. An editor’s fresh perspective and bird's-eye view of the work can help draw out and clarify the key themes or ideas and make them as engaging as possible.

In addition, accredited editors possess considerable technical knowledge of the mechanics of grammar, syntax and style, which allows them to diagnose and rectify any tangled paragraphs in the text where the English just doesn't seem to sound quite right. Plus, a keen eye for detail honed by long hours of practice will pick up sneaky typos and formatting issues before you hit print. 

Above all else, the editor’s role is to make the writing shine. Ownership of the text remains with the author – all credit for the completed work remains with the author or publishing team.

This, then, is the task to which all of the editor’s skill is directed: to display the skills of the writer to their very best advantage, to reinforce their authorial voice and then to fade into the background.

Why is editing so expensive?

I do my best to keep prices down: as a low-turnover firm I am able to waive GST, I offer loyalty and referral discounts, and I offer lower prices for students. But editing can feel like a bit of an outlay. There's two reasons for this.

First, it's highly skilled labour. As an accredited editor, I've had to pass a rigorous exam to prove my skills and knowledge. I'm required to maintain my membership in good standing of the Institute of Professional Editors, keep my training up to date and remain apprised of developments in Australian English (and British, American and Canadian Englishes, too). I'm also expected not to drastically undercut my peers on price. 

Second, it takes a large amount of time (and some resources). For each edit I do, I begin by identifying the journal or university style/reference guidelines I need to adhere to, if relevant. I also identify the appropriate dictionary (Macquarie, for Australian English). Once I have these two references in place, I start my style sheet, print out the reference list (if applicable) and begin a first pass of the document. I make corrections, note down the style, spelling, grammar and other decisions I am making in the style sheet, crosscheck the citations with the reference list, and make comments to explain my changes or suggest additional ones. Having completed my first pass, I write up my initial impressions of the document in a rough draft of my Editor's Notes. 

Ideally, at this stage, I take a break from the document overnight before returning to do the second pass: more corrections, more comments, probably amending my original comments based on my more complete understanding of the document. Then I rewrite my Editor's Notes, and proofread them and my comments. Next, I check that all of the usage choices listed in the style sheet have been properly implemented in the text. 

Finally, I sit down to style the reference list (I actually find this quite soothing), and add a list of omitted or extraneous references to the bottom of my Editor's Notes. 

Et voilà!

Can you offer a free sample edit or proofread?

While I cannot offer a free sample, I am more than happy to complete a short extract for you - the cost of that editing or proofreading work would then be subtracted from the price of the full document, were you to go ahead with the order.


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