What is substantive editing?

Substantive editing involves a deeper level of examination of the document to determine whether the language, content, structure and style are appropriate for the author’s goals and the reader’s expectations. The process might involve rewriting and restructuring the document in consultation with the writer. It can be a longer process than copy editing.

A substantive edit includes:

Structural review and editing

  • Assess the overall document for cohesion and completeness
  • Determine whether a rewrite of sections of the text is required
  • Ensure the document fulfils the intended purpose and is appropriate for the intended audience
  • Determine whether any sections require rearrangement, expansion or summarising to achieve the most logical structure
  • Ensure the text is complete and consistently correct
  • Assess whether additional material, navigation aids (headings or links) or reader aids (illustrations, glossary or index) are required
  • Decide whether any material should be transferred to an appendix or vice versa

Language and style editing

  • Ensure the language is suitable for the intended readership
  • Ensure the discussion has logical flow and is appropriately weighted
  • Determine whether information and arguments are presented clearly and unambiguously
  • Delete unnecessary repetition, contradictions and irrelevant material
  • Ensure consistency in tone and style retaining the author’s voice and style

Clarity of presentation checking

  • Check that the presentation is clear, concise and effective
  • Ensure document title and headings accurately reflect the content
  • Examine tables, figures and other illustrative material to ensure appropriate and accurate material
  • Confirm tables, figures and other illustrative material are correctly placed
  • Ensure references are included and correct
  • Ensure explanations of terms, symbols and abbreviations are included in the text, glossary or index



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