No matter how well written, most documents benefit greatly from professional editing. The process ensures a document communicates clearly, is appropriate for its intended audience, and is free from spelling and grammatical errors – ready for publication or submission.
The level of editing required depends on the needs of the document or its stage of development.
Substantive (or structural) editing looks at the document as a whole and ensures that the structure, content, language, style and presentation are suitable for its intended audience. It can involve significant rewriting.
Copyediting focuses primarily on style and consistency, paying particular attention to sentence structure, grammar, spelling, punctuation, language and tone, clarity of expression, cross-references, bibliography and formatting. It does not involve significant rewriting.
Proofreading (or verification editing) ensures the document is ready to be published, checking that all elements are included, amendments have been inserted, and spelling or punctuation errors have been corrected. Proofreading is usually done on typeset documents (e.g. PDFs) that were copyedited in Word before typesetting.
A comprehensive edit involves all three levels of edit.
Editing for plain language
Using plain language (or plain English) makes information and messages easy to read and understand.
Plain language uses the simplest, most straightforward way of expressing an idea. It avoids jargon, convoluted sentences and ambiguity. It also aims for clear visual presentation of information, and considers factors such as readability of font, length of paragraphs and format of tables.
Having documents edited for plain language ensures they are as clear as possible for the intended audience. Editing for plain language can take place at the substantive editing and copyediting levels.