If you are reading an interesting book and you’re caught up in the details, what happens if you suddenly bump into a seemingly careless error and, as you take a deep breath and carry on, you see another one, and then another? Let’s agree that it doesn’t feel good. It distracts you. It may even turn you off, and you begin to wonder if the writer knows what he or she is talking about.
Editing is the process of revising a text to detect and correct any mistakes or errors. Some people believe that this profession is unnecessary or overrated, as they judge a text by its content and not necessarily by its form. However, according to a study conducted by Wayne State University Associate Professor Fred Vultee, mentioned by Natalie Jomini Stroud in an article for the American Press Institute, “Audiences can tell when an article isn’t carefully edited, and it affects their perceptions about the news and their willingness to pay for it.” In effect, the study shows that “digitally savvy young people”, in particular, react negatively to “unedited content” – which shows that a text with errors and typos gives a bad impression and can even distract the reader who questions the authenticity and professionalism of the source.
What’s more, editing a text can significantly improve readers’ understanding of the content: they’ll more readily promote ideas or causes, and know what to do or how to act. They won’t need to second-guess or question what a text means, which leads to wasted energy in following up or, in more serious cases, to rewriting and republishing. The “bottom line” of clearer, more concise and correct material is that it not only satisfies readers’ demands and builds reputations, but also saves organizations valuable time and money.
Revising a text involves different stages and tasks. They all fall under the general label of editing but serve various purposes. However, the differences between proofreading, copy-editing and technical editing are quite sophisticated.
Level 1. Proofreading
We call the proofreading level of editing “Level 1” because it’s the least elaborate, most straightforward. It’s normally the last stage of typographic production before printing. It involves reading a “proof”, a typeset version of the final copy of a text: the edited manuscript.
The task focuses on surface errors, spelling mistakes or typos that appeared during the layout process, like word breaks, page breaks and incorrect page numbers. A thorough proofreader also checks whether the layout design is aesthetically pleasing, and might suggest that images, photos or graphics be added or moved, among other recommendations.
Sometimes, proofreading takes on the character of light copy-editing, such as when a text isn’t intended to be printed or laid out but will be circulated in text format. Think of a master’s thesis, for example. The job then includes checking for misspelled words, incorrect punctuation or capitalization, and inconsistencies in terminology, numbering or the format of titles, among other relatively superficial tasks.
Level 2. Copy-editing
While proofreading is mostly a quantitative skill, copy-editing is qualitative. Basic copy-editing entails reviewing and correcting the text on a deeper level, according to the author’s or client’s needs.
The editor will check grammar, looking for subject-verb agreement, dangling participles, incorrect or unclear use of pronouns, etc. The spelling of names should also be verified to ensure it conforms to the client’s style guide, including official names of countries and other proper nouns such as cities, international conventions, conferences or organizations, and named individuals.
Copy-editing also includes eliminating superfluous words, unnecessary phrases and abbreviations, while spelling out essential information.
Another important aspect is to consider how the text is formatted and organized. Excessive italics, boldface and quotation marks should be minimized or deleted, maintaining a homogenous form. For instance, titles and subheadings should be edited, while ensuring the brevity, consistency and parallel construction of chapter headings, table and figure titles, and bulleted lists.
Level 3. Technical editing
Sometimes also referred to as content-editing, this stage includes the level 2 work, along with more advanced tasks. Technical editing tackles the content of the text rather than its form. It ensures that the writing style is appropriate and the usage of technical terms is precise, while questioning possible factual errors.
In this stage, the editor identifies any content that shows bias or is politically or legally sensitive, which if not revised could affect the client’s best interests. The presentation and wording are improved to make the text easier to read and understand, which can mean simplifying technical language while eliminating jargon and introducing definitions where needed.
Technical editing also includes eliminating ambiguity by rewriting long, complicated sentences or suggesting their rewording. The editor also drafts new text if requested, and may offer advice on the selection and effective use of tables, illustrations, text boxes, footnotes and annexes.
And thus, even if the process of editing appears to be a bit complicated and takes extra time, it pays off in the end with reader comprehension and satisfaction. If you think about it, real loss comes about when the hard work put into developing and delivering an idea is not considered adequate or the information is not judged accurate, all because of easily made typographical or grammatical errors.
If you don’t have time to review your own text, you can always call on an editor, who will improve your manuscript if it needs it or give you advice on how to enhance it.