Substantive Editing

Substantive copyediting is often appropriate for first drafts and previously unedited manuscripts. There are many reasons that your manuscript might require substantive editing. Perhaps you need a fresh set of eyes but don’t feel comfortable asking a friend or colleague. Maybe you are struggling with a writing project and are having trouble figuring out how to make the necessary improvements. Maybe English is your second language—or you are new to writing altogether—and you just need a little help getting your thoughts to sound the way you would like. At some point along the way, every writer has relied on and benefitted from substantive editing!

Substantive editing may comprise:

  • identifying and solving problems of overall clarity or accuracy;
  • reorganizing sentences, paragraphs, sections, or chapters to improve the order in which the text is presented;
  • writing or rewriting segments of text to improve readability and flow of information;
  • revising any or all aspects of the text to improve its presentation;
  • fact checking quotations, citations, and other specific information;
  • consulting with others about issues of concern; and
  • incorporating responses to queries and suggestions, and creating a new draft of the document.

Manuscripts that require substantive editing will necessarily demand subsequent rounds of revision. Therefore substantive editing rarely includes the fine tuning that occurs during basic or heavy copyediting.

The tasks above are based on those listed in the Editorial Freelancers Association Code of Fair Practice, 3rd ed.

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