Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's the Difference between Writing and Editing?

Although there is quite a bit of overlap between writing and editing, there are also some major distinctions between the two. Writing is essentially a creative process whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction; we let our minds roam freely, particularly during the first draft of a document, so that we can get down everything that we are thinking. Then we often rewrite our material to look for mistakes or parts of our story or report that are clumsy or confusing or we just don't like. Some people rewrite a number of times before they are satisfied, particularly with long documents, but even journalists who are writing eight-hundred-word articles are prone to revising their material before submitting the final product. After people finish writing, they usually do a spell-check, and their material may or may not go on to an editor.

If it does, the editor will play a completely different role than the writer. Let's say that the writer has written a novel and submitted it to a developmental editor. The editor will examine the manuscript very carefully to assess character development, background setting, conflict between and within characters, and the resolution of the plot. A developmental editor may recommend many changes in the story to make it more clear, consistent, or less wordy. A newspaper editor may look for potential legal problems, and the editor of a charitable foundation may look for inaccuracies in the monthly report. After the author has implemented some of these recommendations, the manuscript goes for copyediting.

Copyediting involves going line by line in the document to make sure that everything is correct. The copy editor will remove errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typos. The editor will also establish a style. For example, the author may be Australian, and the book may have been written using Australian spelling. The copy editor will then ensure that none of the spelling appears using standard American terms, which would not fit. The copy editor will also stylize punctuation: the editor and the author will decide if the author wants to use serial commas, commas linking coordinating conjunctions (e.g., "The sun was setting, and it was beginning to get cold."), and commas after introductory clauses (e.g., "After midnight, the concert hall was almost empty.").

So, editing is similar to rewriting, but it takes into account many other factors such as consistency. If the word okay is spelled as such fifty-two times in a manuscript, we don't want it spelled as OK in three instances. Consequently, copy editors have a fine eye for detail whereas developmental editors have a keen ability to look at the larger picture. Writers are mainly concerned about getting their story down on paper and doing it as grammatically as possible, but after spending hours, or in some cases years, on a manuscript, writers may lose their objectivity and may benefit from using an editor to provide an independent assessment of their work.

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