The Critique: Basics of Editing

When reviewing a manuscript, a lot of effort can be saved by prioritizing the level of editing. Start with the more important factors and move towards the least important. Time spent on low level edits may be wasted if large blocks of text are later deleted for high level (fundmantal) reasons. Very roughly, the proper order, from most to least important, is:

Language
Composition
Structure
Grammar
Viewpoint
Style
Punctuation
Spelling
Word choice

These properties are interrelated and the suggested order is highly dependent on the type of writing and is very subjective.

But, at the top of the spectrum, if a piece were written in, say, Etruscan, I’m not likely to critique it at all, so language is at the top of the list.

Word choice is often just a matter of opinion, so it’s relegated to the bottom of the list. Word choice in poetry, especially haiku, should be closer to the top.

Everything in between can vary in priority.

Spelling is low in priority for early drafts, high for final draft. But any proofreader can catch spelling errors, so it’s not as important for high level editing.

By composition, above, I mean the writing fundamentals of unity, coherence, and emphasis. These are second only to language. For example, if a piece includes off-topic chapters, it lacks unity and is hardly worth reviewing, since all those OT sections should be dropped immediately and not checked for spelling, or, indeed, anything else.

There is another principle that underlies all of these, and that is consistency. Style, for example, should be the same throughout. Variant spellings are all right, but only one variation should be used for the entire manuscript. Similarly, if you’re writing an English manuscript, you should not suddenly switch to Spanish without providing a translation. People who violate this rule are essentially saying, “I know Spanish and you don’t, so ha ha ha!”

Next time, I’ll go into unity, coherence and emphasis. Judging from manuscripts I’ve seen recently, these are not taught anymore.

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