What's editing all about?

This blog provides a rich mix of resources and advice for an editor unsteady on his or her feet. The author has edited for a singularly long time and in different forms of English depending on which continent she was in at the time. The first section starts with a canon for the practice of editing based on Aristotle, no less.  It provides a mental framework for why we think we need to edit.  It describes the different kinds of editing and gives lists of resources for personal development and practical advice on tax and running a home business.  The basic grind of editing is explained with tips and hints on how to go about it.

Although an editor has to use the established rules of language, changing fashions in language are exposed.  A finely tuned editor will read and listen for changes in the acceptability of a word or phrase, and will modify editing standards forthwith.

The second part contains templates for report and essay writing and press releases.  An editor is often called up to edit such things, and should be aware of the requirements. (See later blogs)





Þ    We have to work too hard to understand the document.

Þ    Something has offended our idea of correct English.

Þ    The style is too wordy (verbose).

Þ    The vocabulary includes jargon or colloquialisms.

Þ    The vocabulary is unsuitable for the subject matter.

Þ    The tone is unsuitable for the subject or the audience.

Þ    The sentences are too long.

Þ    The sentences don’t vary.

Þ    The mechanics are wrong (spelling, grammar, punctuation).

Þ    The facts need to be checked.

Þ    The essay/paper/report doesn’t answer the question posed.

Þ    The ideas don’t flow logically.

Þ    There is ambiguity.

Þ    More paragraphs are needed to divide the ideas.

Þ    More headings need to be inserted.

Þ    The document style needs to be consistent.

Þ    The document needs to be shorter or longer.

Þ    The document needs to be re-organized for a different audience.

Þ    The document needs to be in a different format.


Now we need to organize our thoughts so that we create a rationale for the changes we make to a document.


The first rule is “Be consistent.”

The same format and rules must apply to the whole document.  The tone must be consistent throughout.  The document is a unit.  In order to ensure consistency you might like to create a style guide to note the format of changes you make or a particular spelling or capitalisation.  If you can’t remember whether you capitalized the “Foreign Secretary” or not, then you need to keep notes.


Just jot notes down while you edit.  This is particularly important if you are following a recognized editing style such as APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Languages Association), the Chicago Manual of Style or the particular guide of your publisher, company or faculty.


The second rule is “Be kind to the reader.”


Every document is an attempt at communication and if it fails the writer is wasting his or her time.  The ideas must be communicated logically, in sequence, in suitable language and with correct mechanics.


When looking for a model, go to the best.  Alexander the Great (who is not unknown to us) was tutored by Aristotle, and look at the empire Alexander created.  He must have given great speeches to his soldiers.  Speech making and writing are not dissimilar and their purpose has always been the same.  Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote his famous book, “The Art of Rhetoric,” to describe the five canons (established principles) of rhetoric which apply just as much today either to your writing, editing or speeches to the troops.

Aristotle’s five canons


1. Invention – to discover the available means of persuasion


Þ    Transfer information so that your audience understand it.

Þ    Use appropriate headings and titles to guide the understanding.

Þ    Tell the reader what you want them to do or learn.


2. Arrangement – to select and assemble the argument effectively


Þ    What does the reader need to know?

Þ    Interest the reader.

Þ    Persuade the reader.

Þ    Tailor the message to the audience.

Þ    Make it relevant.


3. Style – to present the argument cogently and eloquently


Þ    Organize your material to best effect.

Þ    Make sure it’s logical.

Þ    Come to the point.

Þ    Use formatting to present the information clearly (paragraphs, headings, bolding, bullets).

Þ    Use shorter sentences.


4. Memory – to speak extemporaneously, to improvise


Þ    Be prepared and know your subject (so that when speaking to an audience you can improvise if necessary).

Þ    Support your argument with good evidence.


5. Delivery – to effectively use voice, gesture, text and images


Þ    Present your material well (in speech, consider tone, volume, variety, clarity, gesture).

Þ    Use the most appropriate format for the presentation of a written document.

Þ    Keep it simple and to the point.

Þ    Use suitable images and illustrations.

There is an empire out there waiting to be conquered.