Editing & Proofreading Guide

1. Introduction

Editing skills are essential in many spheres of life, as clear and error-free writing speaks of a diligent attitude to work. Any type of content requires thorough editing prior to submission. Whether it is an academic essay, a wedding speech, a business letter, or a website article, the person who created the content will need editing assistance since a polished piece of writing is a sure way to make a good impression. Thorough editing requires time and concentration; however, it is less challenging when done in stages.

1.1. Assignment Instructions

What is the very first step an editor should take?  The most logical thing to do is to check the requirements for the written assignment. Skipping this important step may lead to superficial editing that will not yield the desired results. Keeping the instructions in mind, the editor will be able to spot improper paper structure, content discrepancies, citation issues, inappropriate collocations, etc. An editor should understand the purpose of the written assignment to make a comprehensive evaluation of the content’s quality and to decide on the scope of editing. For instance, it may happen that certain parts of a paper should be restructured or added to assure a logical flow of ideas. In such a case, mere proofreading will not be sufficient since the text should represent a coherent and meaningful whole. In short, checking assignment instructions lays the foundation for focused and in-depth editing.

1.2. Content

The text should be easy to comprehend. This does not mean simplifying every sentence into a basic piece; on the contrary, the text may present a complicated idea with field-specific terms and notions but in coherent sentences and well-developed arguments. If an editor has a hard time understanding the main idea of a text,—or if the writer dances around the same overgeneralized arguments, presenting illogical conclusions and incorrect data—such a paper definitely requires changes. Here are a few markers that an editor should consider while checking the credibility of content:

  • The writer is going to extremes
  • No factual data (statistics, facts, references to outside credible authors) is presented
  • The paper provides only well-known facts without going into details
  • The data, names, figures are incorrect

If an editor spots any of these content issues, he or she should either address them or send the paper back for the writer to revise the work.

1.3. Paper structure and type of paper

A text has little chances of fulfilling its purpose if the writer does not take into account the type of paper it is and the structure it requires. Even if the topic is the same, a blog post, an essay, and a research article will all follow different structures and have different elements:

    readers of a blog post would be surprised to find an abstract or a ‘Methods’ section

    a research article would not be comprehensible if it had no proper sections and headings

While the primary responsibility for following proper structure and including all the necessary elements is on the writer, an editor can save the day if something gets overlooked. Elegant sentences and perfectly chosen words will not help if the essay has no thesis statement or if a research article does not reflect the research done. Before one proceeds with checking the grammar, it is important to make sure the text corresponds with the task in general.

1.4. Grammar, vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, stylistic issues

That said, once the editor makes sure the text follows the required structure and contains all the necessary elements, it’s time to check all the ‘small details’. Although, for example, an arguable thesis statement is an important element in an essay, it will not fully compensate inappropriate vocabulary or incomprehensible sentences. The writer’s ideas will reach the reader only if the latter is able to properly understand the sentences in the text.

It may be easy to get distracted when writing, so it is the editor’s task to carefully look through the text and correct any syntactic, grammatical, or punctuation mistakes the writer might have overlooked:

  • misplaced/dangling modifiers
  • run-on sentences
  • incomplete sentences/structures
  • lack of parallel structure
  • misused defining and non-defining relative clauses

An editor also needs to eliminate repetitions (of words and ideas!) and ensure that appropriate vocabulary is used throughout the text. For example, while contracted forms and informal phrases are commonly used in blog posts, they would not be acceptable in a research article. Occasional mistakes in punctuation and style may not ruin the text, but they do affect the overall impression made by it. So, this step should never be skipped!

1.5 Sources

Many papers require a writer to use outside sources to support his or her claims. The instructions often include sources to be used in a paper (if any), and the first thing an editor should do is check them for such a requirement. The next step is to review the Works Cited page and make sure the writer referenced those same outside sources. It is also important that all the sources somehow mentioned/cited inside the paper are referenced, which usually concerns article/movie reviews and reflections.

To add credibility to an essay, an writer/editor should consult the updated versions of scholarly publications, as well as ensure details are not fabricated. If these publication details do not correspond to actual ones or the source has no authors/dates, the editor should correct these issues or set the order on revision.

1.6. Formatting

In any type of the paper, the content has to be structured and organized in an optimal way to facilitate the comprehension and readability of presented information. Using standard formatting shows that a person understands the customs of formal writing, which helps boost their own credibility. There are different styles in formal writing according to which papers should be formatted. Most of them provide guidelines regarding the layout, structure, use of headings, referencing, and other important aspects of formatting.

The most commonly used formatting styles are presented below:

  • The American Psychological Association (APA) style is mostly used in social sciences (psychology, sociology, politics)
  • The Modern Language Association (MLA) Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (used mainly in academic writing in literature and humanities disciplines)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) (used mostly in the humanities and social sciences, including history and the arts)
  • Harvard Referencing Guide (used mostly in humanities, behavioural sciences, philosophy)
  • The Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) (used to format legal documents)
  • The AMA Manual of Style (used in medical sciences)

There are basic aspects an editor should consider while adjusting formatting. The editor should pay attention to such things as title page elements, the placement of headings and their formatting, pagination, font, and margins. Citing sources in the body of the paper and providing a list of references as either footnotes or endnotes is a very important aspect of formal writing. One should always acknowledge the source of any idea and cite it in the text of the paper as a defense against allegations of plagiarism. The editor should strictly follow the rules adopted by a particular style and check for the correctness of all the formatting elements. Regardless of which style is used, one should always comply with the latest version of guidelines to ensure the accurate presentation of data.

1.7. Conclusion

Editing is not as difficult as it may seem when you break the process down into stages. This way, an editor can focus on various aspects separately, thus reducing the possibility of missing significant problems or mistakes. One should remember that content is the main priority. No one will appreciate proper formatting and presentation if the requirements are not met. Therefore, an editor should first concentrate on the specifications of the content and ensure that each element corresponds to the topic and a logical thread is maintained throughout the text. After that, an editor should proceed with checking presentation, grammar, style, and formatting, which are of equal importance. Proofreading is the last stage in the process of editing, which should not be missed. Following these steps in an orderly manner can help an editor optimize his or her work, perform efficiently, and to achieve the highest peaks in his or her career.

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