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  • Writer's pictureMary Finch

What is Editing?

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

After you put words on the page, any work you do to change those words is editing.

When I teach writing, I teach the writing process with a graphic like this:

It's so clear and streamlined! Sure it's a cycle, but there are clear steps. Unfortunately, for myself and many other writers, it is pure fiction.

To be accurate, I would describe my writing process as looking more like this:

Yet despite it's factual inaccuracy, understanding theses distinct types of editing is invaluable for any writing that has the goal of being published, even though they can happen in any order and most will need to happen more than once before publication.

So let's go over the terms.


To revise is to make substantive changes to the work. In most cases, you aren't worried about little details like commas and spelling, but instead you are focused on "Higher Order Concerns" such as organization, transitions, and argument. During a revision, you may find yourself deleting huge sections, moving chapters around, and even changing the focus of your argument or narrative. It is very likely your document will be almost unrecognizable after a thorough revision.

Line Edit

Like it sounds, line editing involves looking a little more closely than you did for revision, but you are still thinking about the content more than the mechanics. This would be the time when you might edit out some of your authorial "ticks": words, sentence structures, and even punctuation you rely on a bit too much (at one point every writer has gone a little dash-happy). Line editing means thinking about style and tone, ensuring you are going to reach your audience in a meaningful and effective way. Rewrites during the line editing phase are generally limited to one or two sentences. Some of the most intensive line edits you do might be changing your tense or point of view.

Copy Edit

Getting even more specific, copy editing looks for errors in wording and logic (a.k.a. "Lower Order Concerns"). Unlike line editing, this isn't about changing your tone or style, but ensuring that everything aligns with your established tone and style goals. This step is a good time to look out for spelling and mechanics errors, but fixing those isn't necessarily the primary goal.


The "final" step in the writing process, proofreading is all about the details. You shouldn't be changing the content at all by the point, besides maybe inserting a missing word. Proofreaders honestly hardly care about the content at all, as you should be focused on double checking spelling and grammar. By the end of a thorough proofreading, your document should be ready to be published!

Working with an Editor

If you are working with an editor, be clear about where you are in the process and about what sort of feedback you need on your document. There is no point in perfecting your punctuation if you are going to be doing massive revisions that delete whole sections. Likewise, no one wants to hear that they should completely rewrite a chapter when they are due to print in a week!

If you've got a project and need help with one of these steps of editing, no matter where you are in your process, reach out through contact page and let's get to work!

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