Revising and Editing

There’s a saying that revising work is what most writers spend their time doing. It’s true. But what’s the difference between revising and editing? They are not the same thing by any stretch.

In Daily Writing Tips, Ali Hale explains the difference.

“Revising your work is about making ‘big picture’ changes. Authors might remove whole sections, rewrite entire paragraphs, and add in information which they’ve realized the reader will need. Everyone needs to revise – even talented writers. The revision stage is sometimes summed up as the A.R.R.R. (Adding, Rearranging, Removing, Replacing) approach:


What else does the reader need to know? If you haven’t met the required word count, what areas could be expanded on? This is a good point to return to prewriting notes – look for ideas you didn’t use.


Even when you’ve planned your piece, sections may need rearranging. Perhaps as you wrote your essay, you found that the argument would flow better if you reordered your paragraphs. Maybe you’ve written a short story that drags in the middle but packs in too much at the end.


Sometimes, an idea doesn’t work out. Perhaps you’ve gone over the word count, and you need to take out paragraphs – or if working on a novel, entire chapters. Maybe that funny story doesn’t really fit with the rest of the work. Tip: This sometimes brutal process is often referred to as “Killing your darlings,” whether it be characters, a plot line, entire chapters, etc. The hard part is saying goodbye.


Would more vivid details help bring your piece or book to life? Do you need to look for stronger examples and quotations to support your argument?

Tip: If you’re not sure what’s working and what isn’t, show your writing to someone else. This might be a writers circle, or just a friend who’s good with words. Ask them for feedback. It’s best if you can show your work to several people, so that you can get more than one opinion. Remember that you don’t have to incorporate every person’s suggestions, unless it’s an academic situation where you may have to acquiesce to a committee of your peers.  

Finally, there’s editing. According to Hale, the editing stage is defined as “being distinct from revision and needs to be done after revising. Editing involves the close-up view of individual sentences and words. It needs to be done after you’ve made revisions on a big scale or you could agonize over a perfect sentence, only to end up cutting that whole paragraph from the piece.” (This is a classic example of killing your darlings.)

Authors can do the first round themselves, either printing out the article or manuscript and going through line-by-line looking for correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage. Another option is reading it aloud.

I’ve had more luck using a writing coach for the initial draft, then hiring professional editors to review the manuscript for all the areas mentioned above. I’ve also been fortunate to have editors who are willing to read the work again after their recommendations are incorporated. This time through, my editors have agreed to read the manuscript as a reader, which I have found invaluable. However, this approach can be pricey and won’t be right for everyone.

Regardless of how you choose to proceed, it’s worth noting that most writing comprises revising followed by editing.






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