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How authors determine the value of editing

by Bianka Boock

Too many texts, too little time – or simply the same subject matter over and over again. Authors who find themselves in this situation often fail to polish their submissions to a publishable standard. Instead, they send it to an editor with a request for a “quick check”, leaving the job to them – or simply to the person or organisation publishing the article. But this can be to the detriment of the text itself, which consequently fails to reach its true potential. To see why, it may help to take a look at what editing actually is.

A fundamental distinction is made between editing and proofreading. When a proofreader checks a text, they ensure that the spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct. They will standardise the language variant and check the hyphenation and typography. An editor, on the other hand, will also inspect and improve the style: is the text too repetitive? Does it match the desired voice or are there unsuitable sections? Comprehensibility matters, too. This is not just about checking whether the reader will understand what is being said, but also whether the structure and argument make sense for the intended purpose, and whether the subject matter is addressed in sufficient detail or too superficially. They may even check the factual accuracy of the content. All in all, an editor’s job is truly comprehensive – and it’s the kind of work that requires more than one “pass” through the text.

Many corrections become hard to track

This becomes truer and truer the more errors a text contains and the more changes are required. As a result, more editing passes will be needed. As the editor goes through the text again and again, it can soon become cluttered – for example, when viewing a document in “track changes” mode, the change logs can quickly drown out the text itself. The text can no longer be read fluently, either by the editor on their second or third pass, or the author, who can accept or reject the changes. Often, the author will fail to understand the changes that have been made, causing them to incorporate new errors into the text. In particular, this can occur with missing or double spaces, or missing words.

In conclusion, the more concise and better written the text is to begin with, the better the editor’s chances of identifying every error. Moreover, a few changes are easier to make than a huge mass of them. This is why the author significantly influences the value of an editor’s work - and of the final publication. Authors, in other words, cannot simply delegate responsibility for their texts.

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