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The Stages of Editing

A manuscript is usually processed in this order:

Substantive editing and rewriting (optional)
Rearranging and rewriting paragraphs as necessary to improve clarity and flow of ideas; editing sentences to remove passive voice, ambiguous references, awkward transitions, and wordiness. Readers will find your manuscript easier to read and comprehend, and the skilled editor will preserve your voice.
Copyediting (required)
Checking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, formatting, and conformance to style guidelines; at client request editing sentences to remove passive voice, ambiguous references, awkward transitions, and wordiness. If you have a good copyeditor, your manuscript will sound just like the original, but better.
Proofreading (optional)
Comparing a document against an original to verify accuracy, as in legal proofreading; checking typeset pages against copyedited pages to ensure all changes were made; reading typeset pages a final time for typographical errors such as a missing quotation mark or an instance of amd where and should be. Many writers believe their work needs proofreading when it actually requires copyediting.

At all stages you should have the option to accept or reject changes. When I edit and copyedit, I use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes function to highlight the changes I make. It’s your book; you decide whether changes stay or go. View an example copyedit.

When I work on a manuscript, these are some of the questions I ask myself and the types of corrections I make:

Substantive Editing and Rewriting

Are chapters presented in the best order? Should some chapters be combined and others split?
Is any information missing? Are additional scenes or examples needed?
Flow of ideas
Do thoughts flow logically? Would paragraph 4 make more sense if it were above paragraph 2?
Is the meaning clear at first reading?


Ambiguous references

Mabel cut the article out of the newspaper and tossed it in the recycle bin.

Did she toss the article or the newspaper? Suggested revision: Mabel cut out the article and tossed the newspaper in the recycle bin.

Awkward transitions

The wide gate to the main avenue rolled aside. The trees on the ridge had been chopped back to branches five inches thick. It would be very hot.

Are these sentences even from the same manuscript? Suggested revision (assuming the added details are correct): The wide gate to the main avenue rolled aside, revealing the trees on the ridge. They had been chopped back to branches five inches thick. Without the trees’ shade, it would be very hot.

Dangling participles

A monkey at heart, Rosie’s father irritated her by warning her to stay out of the trees.

Rosie’s father is not a monkey at heart. Suggested revision: Her father’s warning to stay out of the trees irritated Rosie, who was a monkey at heart.

Parallel structure

Her favorite pastimes are swimming, reading, and to play golf.

Suggested revision: Her favorite pastimes are swimming, reading, and playing golf.

Passive voice

He was gratified by their praise.

At times passive voice will be preferred to shift the focus of the sentence. Suggested revision, if appropriate: Their praise gratified him.


Many of those ideas Gretchen barely comprehended and they sounded ridiculous since it felt to her that no one in their right mind would ever have thought such a thing without being told to. [34 words]

Suggested revision: Gretchen barely comprehended many of those ideas and felt no right-minded person would think such ridiculous things on their own. [20 words]


Grammar and Punctuation
  • Subject and verb agreement (the book is, the books are)
  • Proper use of commas, periods, semicolons, etc.
  • Commonly misspelled words (separate, not seperate)
  • Usage mistakes (principal for principle)
  • Consistency throughout (boo-boo or booboo)
  • Typos (to0l for tool)
  • Same-level headings capitalized consistently
  • Standardized format for dates, phone numbers, etc.
  • Conformance to style guidelines