Session 11: Revising, Copy Editing, and Proofreading

Welcome to Session 11 of the Better Writing Boot Camp. This is the second-last session, so we’re in the home stretch. But, don’t let your energy or focus relax just yet – the remaining couple of topics are also important.

Today we’re looking at the differences between revising, copy editing, and proofreading. I find that when writers understand the differences – and approach each as a separate task – their writing is much clearer.

Many writers talk about “editing” their work. Usually they’re talking about basically the second last step they take before giving the document to the end reader. In other words, it’s a step that can include everything from revising, to clarifying, to tidying up the document. Because the skills, techniques, and attention involved in revising, copy editing, and proofreading are different, you should treat them as separate steps.

Revising

Revising involves reading the document from the perspective of the reader. In other words, when revising, you should ask yourself whether:

  • you’ve included all the information the reader needs – if not, now’s the time to fill in the gaps in the analysis
  • all the information is clear to the reader
  • the information is in an order that makes sense to the reader – if not, take time to rearrange the information
  • the information is sufficiently detailed but concise – if not, focus the information by trimming out anything that is unimportant

Writers sometimes gloss over this important step. They may do so because they feel they’ve been paying attention to these things as they were writing. Or, if they took time to create an outline before they started, they feel they considered these things at that point. But, regardless of how careful and thoughtful you were when writing, of necessity, your focus was from the storyteller’s perspective. Revising is about analysing the information from the reader’s perspective so you must approach revising as a distinct task.

Sometimes writers are not able to objectively review their writing from the reader’s perspective. This can happen, for example, if you’ve been working on a document for some time or have written many preliminary drafts. If this is the case, you should find someone who can read it and provide honest, objective feedback. (In the world of professional editing, what you’d be looking for is someone skilled at “substantive” or “content” editing.)

After you’ve finished revising the document and have a more-or-less final draft, it’s time for copy editing.

Copy editing versus proofreading

Many folks use copy editing and proof reading interchangeably. Strictly speaking, they are not the same. Copy editing is editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and checking for formatting inconsistencies, repetition, and so on. Copy editing also includes fact checking and verifying references and citations.

Proofreading is a separate step that’s done after you’ve revised the document and after it’s been copy edited. Strictly speaking, proofreading happens after a manuscript is printed but before it is distributed. It is basically a final read to catch typos, inconsistent spellings, bad line or page breaks, missing pages, and so on.

That said, a skilled copy editor will often be sufficient to catch proofreading-type errors in standard business documents.

Don’t skip these steps

Revising and copy editing are important steps in creating a document. Don’t skip either of them. Revising helps ensure your writing is clear, with all the sentences, paragraphs, and ideas working together to make the reader’s trip toward understanding effortless. Copy editing helps uphold your reputation as a skilled, knowledgeable professional.

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