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Classifying editorial tasks

Editorial tasks can be defined and classified in different ways; for example:

  • Types and levels of edit
  • Degrees of edit
  • Literary and technical edits
  • Rules-based and analysis-based edits

(See Who needs a technical editor for more information about the types and levels of edit.)

A classification into rules-based and analysis-based edits overlaps the others, by providing a way to determine which editorial decisions are negotiable with the writer and which are non-negotiable.

Rules-based editing covers ways to make a document correct, consistent, accurate and complete, using standards and guidelines specified by the company. Some examples:

  • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, hyphenation
  • Adherence to legal requirements (copyright, trademarks, and so on)
  • Internal consistency, typically to do with design: typography, layout and illustrations
  • Bibliographic references and citations

Rules-based editing is usually non-negotiable with the writer: the editor enforces the rules.

But rules-based editing is not enough: the document can still be inappropriate for the intended audience.

Analysis-based editing covers the process of evaluating a document for concept, content, organisation, form and style, to make it more functional and appropriate for its readers. Much of this type of editing should be negotiable: the editor should suggest improvements rather than make corrections.

Problems can arise when the difference between “enforcing the rules” and “making suggestions” is not clear.

Editing for logic and structure is entirely analysis-based, whether at the document level or at the paragraph, sentence or word level. This type of editing covers the language and substantive levels of edit.

A language edit is concerned with how ideas are expressed. For example:

  • Sentence complexity and use of active or passive verbs
  • Conciseness
  • Clear, logical development of ideas
  • Use of jargon or technical terms appropriate for the intended audience

(Much of the language edit is a subset of work generally considered to be copy editing.)

The substantive edit deals with the overall structure of the publication:

  • Does it all fit together into a coherent whole?
  • Is the order of presentation logical (from the target audience’s point of view)?
  • Is all the necessary information included, and unnecessary information deleted?
  • Are the retrieval aids (table of contents, internal headings, index) useful? Do they contain terms that are useful to the target audience?
  • For online materials (such as CD-ROM or Web sites), are the navigation aids logical and useful in context? Can users easily find the links they want?

Substantive editing may involve restructuring or rewriting part or all of a document.

See also Substantive editing.

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Last updated 10 September 2002