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'Editing' is best thought of as the activity that involves checking and correcting the text and layout of a document. It is not directly concerned with the accuracy of the content of the document (other than making sure that the content is easy to understand) - this is more a question for the document review. In this context (and in the sense used in this section), editing involves what is often (mistakenly) referred to as proofreading but is more akin to traditional copy-editing.

Put simply, editing involves checking for:

  • Inconsistencies or errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation;
  • Incorrect use of words;
  • Inconsistent use of fonts, font sizes, and other typographical objects (bullets, numbering, etc.);
  • Problems with page layout (headers and footers, widows and orphans, and so on).

For technical communications (and more often than not for internal, non-commercial activities) the text review and subsequent correction of errors found during the review may be combined into a single activity (with the reviewer [often an Editor] making the corrections themselves). In other cases, editing may simply involve the editor identifying errors, with these errors being corrected by the author themselves.

The editing process

The purpose of editing is to ensure that the published documentation is of the highest possible quality. It should be seen as a value-add activity, and not a 'review' or 'correction' activity. Errors must be corrected without judgement, and certainly without any feeling of superiority on the part of the editor. Any proposed alteration must be obviously essential for accuracy or highly desirable for style or clarity.

Perfection is difficult to achieve, but it is not likely to come about anywhere, unless there is complete acceptance of the editing system, and confidence in the people who are given the job of ensuring that the work turned out is a credit to the department.

Often, authors are resistant to having their work 'edited', feeling that they know best. This perception can be difficult to overcome, but it is worth emphasizing that the role of the editor is to 'polish' the work of the author, and to catch any mistakes that may have slipped through the author's own review (or even peer reviews). It is worth emphasizing that if - if - any name appears on the publication, this will be the name of the author, and not the editor (who will often not garner a mention at all). Therefore, corrections made by the editor are not egotistically-driven, or done for recognition, but done purely to present the (work of the) author in the best possible light.

The Editor

Ideally, the editor should be a different person to the author. It is difficult to subjectively edit one's own documents, especially when you are over-familiar with the document, having worked on it for countless hours.

In many large organizations, a separate editorial position will exist. This will often be a senior position, with authors being 'promoted' into this position. This, however, is more borne out of the need to endow the editor with sufficient authority to 'overrule' the authors. There is no reason why the editor cannot be at the same level as the author - or indeed, a junior author - as long as the authority of the editor is recognized and accepted by all members of the team.

Where a separate editorial position does not exist, authors should edit one another's work (and not their own). This will ensure a more subjective review, and has the added advantage that authors can build up familiarity with subject areas with which they may not otherwise become acquainted - which provides better work coverage within the writing department.

In some cases, the author effectively is the entire writing department, and is responsible for everything from drafting to reproduction - including editing. However, it should not be assumed that in these cases an editing step is either impossible or unnecessary. Although not ideal, it is possible to edit one's own work, with some degree of subjectivity. There are still things that can be checked, and there will often be things that are caught by this editorial step, and so it is still worth doing. Self-editing is described in more detail below.

Editing activities

  • Checking relevance of information;
  • Ensuring that documentation meets the original brief;
  • Check suitability of graphs and illustrations;
  • Checking source information;
  • Checking logic of exposition;
  • Ensuring clarity;
  • Ensuring adherence to standards;
  • Ensuring that vocabulary matches reader level;
  • Checking grammar and syntax.


  • Make sure that requirements/authority clearly defined.
  • The Editor should have a broad general knowledge of the subject being edited - even if they have to obtain this just for the job


  • Marking up: make sure mark-up is in a different color from the copy (and is clearly labeled as such).
  • Consider using separate copies for mark-up. Possibly also one for 'rough' when doing first read through.
  • Consider using a checklist of things to check, especially when checking for adherence to the Style Guide.
  • For reviews against styles and standards, it is often beneficial to simply circle the incorrect text and then specify the reference number of the rule - this forces them to go and (re-)read the standards (although this approach doesn't usually win you any friends).
  • Be wary of making changes to suit your personal preference ("Well, what I would do is...").

Consider using standard proofreading symbols when marking up corrections. However, you need to make sure that the writer (who will be making these corrections) also understands the meaning of these symbols. A guide to proofreading symbols can be found on Merriam-Webster's website [1], although the definitive reference is BS 5261 Proofreading Symbols. A useful quick reference, showing examples of the use of many of these symbols can be found at www.journalismcareers.com/articles/downloads/proofreadingsymbols.pdf.

Editing your own work

As explained above, authors should not edit their own work unless there is absolutely no choice - that is, where no separate editor, or peer reviewer, is available.

If it is necessary for you to edit your own work, it is important that this step is still considered as a separate step. Do not think that just because you wrote (and possibly revised) the document yourself that it is automatically as good as it is going to get. You should still carry out a separate editing step.

If time permits, take a break between writing the document and editing it. This break should be at least two or three days, but in all events should not be less than 24 hours. Putting some (temporal) distance between you and the document will allow you to approach the edit from a more detached - and therefore subjective - standpoint.

Where possible, print the document out, and review the document on paper. It is often easier to catch grammatical, syntax, and spelling errors on paper than it is on the screen. However, you should also perform a final review of the document in the medium in which it will be delivered, to ensure that the layout is correct.

When reviewing the document, go through each of the editing steps highlighted above. Do not be tempted to omit any of these checks, or deem them unnecessary because you are familiar enough with the document. As you find errors (and you will...) mark these up on the hard-copy printout, as you would if you were reviewing someone else's work. Do not be tempted to immediately make corrections to the electronic document - there is more chance of you missing things if you are constantly switching between the screen and paper. Go through all of your editing checks, mark up all of the required changes, and then once you have finished the editing step, go back to the electronic document and make the changes.

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