If "editing" were a person, they'd be a perfectionist: detail-oriented, thorough, and driven. Editing knows what they want and how to get it done.

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If "editing" were a person, they'd be a perfectionist: detail-oriented, thorough, and driven. Editing knows what they want and how to get it done.

Think about a book you've read and enjoyed. That book, and indeed any book that's ever been published, would not exist without editing. Without editing, written works are unfinished collections of thoughts. They might be interesting and entertaining, but they're not polished.

In this explanation, we will explore the importance of editing in more detail and look at how to edit your work to ensure it meets excellent standards. Are you ready?

Editing Purpose

Why do we bother with editing, and why is it so important?

As we mentioned above, editing is the part of the writing process that completes the project. Editing is the step that takes our work from "in progress" to "finished."

Editing, hand editing an essay, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Editing is an important process that can take your writing to the next level.

Editing Definition

To fully grasp the purpose of editing, it's worth looking at the definition of editing. After all, a definition pretty much sums up a word.

The word editing can be a verb (-to edit as in "I am busy editing"), or a noun (the process of editing something).

The noun version of editing refers to the process of preparing a piece of work to be used for a specific purpose by correcting or improving it to a high standard.

The verb form of the word editing refers to the action of carrying out the above process.

Editing Writing

As a student, you will have plenty of experience doing written work. Editing should become an integral part of your writing process - if it isn't already.

These are some things you should look for when editing your writing:

  • Spelling errors

  • Grammatical errors

  • Structural issues

  • Redundant or overused phrases

  • "Fluffy" language or "waffling" (filling space and taking up words with overly descriptive or repetitive language)

  • Weak adjectives

  • Content that is factually inaccurate or irrelevant

  • Overuse of the passive voice

If a section of writing doesn't feel right when you read it back to yourself, then it should probably be changed, and if the work still makes sense without that section, then remove it.

Editing writing is a skill that gets better with practice. You'll soon realize that your work requires less and less editing, and you'll get faster and more efficient at editing it too.

Editing Types

There are four types of editing that you need to know about. These are:

  • Developmental

  • Structural

  • Copy editing

  • Proofreading

Let's explore each one in turn.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing (a.k.a. substantive editing) is where you read through your written work and decide whether it makes sense and conveys the information you intended. In essence, this is where you will check the substance of your writing.

Ask whether you have developed your ideas sufficiently, or could you add more detail or evidence to support them? Have you made any weak arguments that are not that relevant to the big picture, and could these be removed to improve your work?

These are the sorts of questions you should ask during developmental editing. If there are any contradictions or logical flaws, you should also eliminate these now.

Structural Editing

Structural editing is pretty self-explanatory and looks at the overall structure of your writing. This kind can either take place as a second step or can be done in tandem with developmental editing. During structural editing, you should look at how your arguments flow and whether your piece progresses logically. You should also assess the overall tone and writing style you've used to ensure it is appropriate for the purpose and audience of the work.

Does the writing sound too casual? Does it flow well, or do you need to adjust where you discuss certain things to make it easier to follow?

You should also consider the paragraphs in your piece. Is there a sufficient number of paragraphs? Are there any that you could get rid of to remain concise? Are they appropriately linked to one another? Popping random paragraphs together if they don't lead into one another will make for a jarring read.

Layout is also a key aspect of structural editing. You can secure additional marks by ensuring your written work is laid out correctly:

  • Do you have a content page? Do the content list items match your page numbers correctly?

  • Does your essay have a clear introduction and definitive conclusion? Can the reader tell that there is a distinct beginning, middle, and end to your piece?

  • Have you included references in a reference list? Does this begin on a new page at the end of your essay?

Once you've sorted out any improvements in the structural editing phase, you can move on to copy editing.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is when you look for grammatical errors or syntax issues that create awkward or clumsy writing.

A syntax issue is when the components of a sentence are not arranged in a way that flows well and makes sense. Syntax issues can make writing sound much more complicated than it is.

"Due to having a lack of knowledge about sailing, John was unable to moor the boat correctly."

This sentence sounds clumsy and is an example of poor syntax. A corrected version of this sentence might be:

"John was unable to moor the boat correctly due to his lack of sailing knowledge."

This is the editing phase that is concerned with improving the quality of your writing in general. Copy editing is also where you should ensure that the tone and style of your writing are consistent throughout the entire piece.

During the copy editing stage, you'll also complete what is called line editing. This is when you go through your work line by line to ensure any minor errors or inaccuracies are mitigated. This includes improving word choices and eliminating run-on sentences.

A run-on sentence is when two independent clauses are placed together without punctuation or conjunctions separating them. For example, "The boy was tired he went to sleep early."


Proofreading (a.k.a. mechanical editing) is the final stage of the editing process and is where you go through your work with a fine-toothed comb. Here, your work will become polished and ready for presentation.

Proofreading will target spelling errors, grammatical or syntactic issues, fluency problems, and inconsistency.

One of the most important aspects of proofreading is ensuring that references and citations are formatted, complete, and accurate. This is vital, as appropriate referencing could save you from accusations of plagiarism.

By the end of the proofreading stage, you should have a polished piece of writing that is concise, factually accurate, backed up with evidence, and referenced properly. You should feel confident handing in any essay or other written piece now.

Have you ever handed in a piece of work knowing that you were rushed towards the end and didn't have enough time for editing? To avoid this, ensure you leave yourself enough time to check your work properly. This will alleviate some anxiety about the quality of your work and help you achieve higher grades.

Editing, upwards arrow, StudySmarterFIg. 2 - Every stage of editing moves your work further towards completion

Editing Steps

Now that we've covered the different types of editing in the journey to beautiful writing, what other steps can you follow to ensure your work is as great as it can be?

These are some steps and tips that might help you to organize your editing process:

  • Read through your completed written piece from beginning to end.

  • Re-read it, taking more time to spot anything that doesn't look or sound right.

  • Proceed through the different types of editing, making changes as you go along. Don't feel you have to identify all the errors or areas for improvement at once; that's what the different types of editing are for. As you move through each phase, anything you've missed in previous stages will become easier to pick out and rectify.

  • Reading your work aloud can help you notice if something sounds funny or if a sentence is awkwardly structured or too long.

  • If you aren't sure whether you should keep a section of text or not, copy it onto a separate document and delete it from your draft. Re-read your draft and see if it feels lacking. Think about how you could reword or restructure the section you removed to make it flow better in your work.

The editing process isn't always straightforward, but with practice, you'll notice that it does get easier, and your writing will improve because of it.

Editing, group work, StudySmarterFIg. 3 - Getting a second opinion on your work can also help with editing.

Editing Examples

To consolidate everything we've explored in this article, let's finish with an example for each type of editing:

Developmental Editing

Since developmental editing is mainly about identifying areas where your discussion or argument could be improved, an example of developmental editing could be:

In an essay, you make the point that "social interaction has a significant impact on early language development in infants," but you don't explain this point or add evidence to support it. This point is therefore left hanging in your essay without conveying anything helpful. In the developmental editing phase, this is the sort of issue you would pick out and rectify.

In this example, you could either remove the point if it was irrelevant to your argument or go back and explain it in more detail with the appropriate evidence.

Structural Editing

Structural editing is all about the structure of your writing, including tone, style, and fluency of expression. We'll look at an example focusing on tone:

Most of your essay is written in professional, academic language, and then as you're reading, you notice a line that says, "and that pretty much sums up how language and power are connected." You see that this line is too casual for an academic essay, so you edit it to match the tone of the rest of the piece. You might replace it with something like, "These case studies illustrate the factors influencing the relationship between language and power."

Copy Editing

When you get down to the copy editing phase, the editing focus becomes more astute (accurate and precise). Here's an example of how a run-on sentence might be corrected during copy editing:

Run-on sentence: "Nick Carraway is not a reliable narrator in The Great Gatsby he is too invested in his own interests which makes him biased."

Corrected sentence: "Nick Carraway is not a reliable narrator in The Great Gatsby because he is too invested in his own interests, which makes him biased."


Alternative correction: "Nick Carraway is not a reliable narrator in The Great Gatsby. He is too invested in his own interests, which makes him biased."


Proofreading is probably the form of editing that you're most familiar with. Here's an example of how you might proofread a sentence:

In an essay analyzing the theme of psychological games in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, you might write:

"In act one Albee uses the scene with the fake gun to portray a number of different humorous references and ideas which link to the mind games that the characters play with one another."

To proofread this line, you might instead write:

"In Act 1, Albee utilizes the scene where George plays with a fake gun to illustrate a range of humorous references linking to the mind games that the characters play."

Grammatical issues (adding the comma after "Act 1") have been rectified and the overall expression of the line has been improved. The language has also been altered to be more academic ("number of different humorous references and ideas" vs. "range of humorous references").

Editing - Key Takeaways

  • Editing is an essential part of any written project, essay, or presentation.
  • There are four types of editing: development, structural, copy editing, and proofreading.
  • You should carry out all four editing types when editing a piece of written work.
  • Some things you should look out for during editing include spelling and grammatical errors, syntactical issues, inappropriate tone or style, fluency issues, and overly descriptive language.
  • Reading through your work several times and reading it aloud can help you to identify mistakes you might have missed during the editing process.

Frequently Asked Questions about Editing

Editing is the process of identifying and rectifying any errors in the written work. This includes spelling and grammatical errors, structural errors and improvements, and double-checking information to ensure it is factually correct and reliable. Editing also entails making sure all references are included and accurate. Editing is the final stage of the writing process.

The four key types of editing are: 

  • developmental
  • structural 
  • copy editing
  • proofreading

If this is the original content:

“Danny looked at Laura coming up the isle and though to himself that he was the luckiest man ever.”

an example of how this could be edited is: 

“Danny watched Laura glide up the aisle towards him like a goddess on a cloud of white. He thought to himself that he had to be the luckiest man in the universe to be the one to end up with her.”

As you can see, spelling errors have been corrected, more detail has been added, and the wording has been changed in places to improve expression.

The steps of editing are as follows: 

  • read through the written work
  • carry out developmental editing
  • carry out structural editing
  • carry out copy editing
  • proofread for final inaccuracies and errors

The purpose of editing is to ensure that the written work has no spelling, grammatical, or structural errors and that all details are factually accurate, relevant, and complete. Referencing should also be checked during editing to avoid plagiarism.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which of these is NOT a definition of “editing”?

What are the four types of editing?

Which of these questions should you ask yourself during structural editing?


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