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Revision vs Editing: What's the Difference?

Shaun Connell
June 12, 2023

Whether you're writing a blog post or the first draft of a book, revision and editing are both important parts of the process.

These two terms are often used interchangeably, though, despite the fact that they refer to two different stages of publishing an error-free and well-crafted work.

Solution When comparing revision vs editing, the main difference is the primary focus. During the revision process, a writer is looking at the bigger picture ideas, themes, and content, potentially changing key aspects of the story or text. Basic editing, on the other hand, focuses on sentence-level issues like word choice, sentence variety, and spelling and grammatical errors.

Let's take a closer look at what editing and revision are to help you design a writing process that is both efficient and effective.

What Is Editing?

When a manuscript is edited, the focus is on correcting the structure of the writing itself. The types of changes that are made or otherwise indicated include:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Sentence structure
  • Word choice
  • Sentence variety
  • Word order
  • Deleting unnecessary words

During the editing process, the actual content of the story or piece is usually not changed. This is an opportunity to identify and correct technical mistakes that were made during the writing process, such as spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or typos.

person editing a piece of writing

It's common to have someone else edit a manuscript rather than the original author. Even the best writers can have a hard time noticing their own errors, though, because they are so familiar with the work. A second pair of eyes can make the process of cleaning up a manuscript much simpler and more straightforward.

For what it's worth, there's also a further distinction to be made between editing and proofreading. Technically, proofreading focuses on the more surface errors like misspellings and grammar mistakes while editing also incorporates looking at the clarity, style, and structure of the piece.

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The Different Types of Editing

To further complicate things, there are a number of different types of editing that are worth knowing about. There aren't always strict terms and definitions used for these editing processes, but some commonly referenced editing categories include the following:

  • Developmental editing: Occurs at the beginning of the writing process and focuses on organization and structure rather than word choice, grammar, and punctuation
  • Evaluation editing: Also known as structural editing and manuscript critique, this is the process of assessing the flow, structure, overall quality, and completeness of a text.
  • Content editing: Also known as full editing or substantive editing, this is focused on tone and voice as well as rearranging sections and paragraphs when necessary
  • Line editing: Also known as comprehensive editing and stylistic editing, this is a line-by-line review that focuses on word choice, sentence impact, and clarifying meaning.
  • Copyediting: Copyediting is done when a manuscript is otherwise completely finished and involves fixing any and all spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
  • Proofreading: The final stage after copyediting. This is when one last review is done before a book heads to the printer. This is essentially the last line of defense against there being any errors in the text.

What Is Revision?

Revising, on the other hand, focuses on the manuscript as a whole and can result in modifying the content of the story or piece.

The following steps might be involved in the revision process:

  • Adding additional details
  • Adding new thoughts
  • Choosing more descriptive words
  • Clarifying existing thoughts
  • Enhancing character development
  • Improving the way crucial ideas or themes are presented
  • Eliminating unnecessary elements or sections
  • Adding, removing, or rearranging paragraphs, sentences, or entire sections
  • Refining the language and style

When you revise a piece of writing, you are focused on reworking and improving the content, structure, and overall cohesiveness.

The broader aspects of the writing are taken into account at this point, such as:

  • Logical flow
  • Organization
  • Clarity of ideas
  • Effectiveness of supporting evidence or arguments

Revision Vs. Editing: The Major Differences

Revision and editing are two separate and distinct stages of the writing process. They serve different purposes, focus on different aspects of a piece of writing, have different goals, and occur at different points in the process.

man editing document on desktop

At the same time, it's worth noting that there aren't entirely rigid rules regarding what constitutes editing and revision, and the two can certainly overlap in some regards. That being said, both revision and editing are important stages of the writing process to ensure that any written work is both well-crafted and error-free.

The Purpose

Revision is a process that serves to improve the content, organization, and overall cohesiveness and effectiveness of a piece of writing. Editing is instead focused on ensuring accuracy and clarity by correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors.

The Focus

When you're revising a piece, you're looking at the big picture. You're thinking about the ideas, logical flow, overall message, and structure of the piece. You're examining and potentially changing the actual content of the manuscript and considering how the complete package will be received by a reader.

Editing is more zoomed-in. When you edit (or when someone edits your writing), a magnifying glass is (metaphorically) held over each sentence. The idea isn't to make changes to the content or ideas but instead to make sure that the writing is technically correct and clean without any errors.

The Scope

Revision can be a much larger project than editing depending on the scope of the changes being made to the organization, structure, and content of the piece. The process of adding, removing, or reorganizing ideas, sentences, or paragraphs can be fairly time-consuming unless a few changes are being made.

Editing requires that a person goes through a piece of writing with a fine-tooth comb. Because editors aren't trying to change the ideas behind a piece, an experienced editor can move through a manuscript fairly quickly.

The Timing

The time for revision usually comes after the rough draft is written. This way, there is plenty of space to make big changes and improvements before the final draft is created.

Editing comes after the piece has been revised. Editing a written work before revision has occurred is inefficient, as the revised draft will only need to be edited again. Usually, editing will occur after the final draft is created and before the piece is submitted or published.

The Objective

Finally, there are also differences when it comes to the objective of editing and revision.

The overarching goal of revision includes:

  • Enhancing clarity
  • Making a text more readable and coherent
  • Strengthening the arguments
  • Addressing inconsistencies or weak points
  • Ensuring the piece achieves its intended purpose
  • Verifying that the needs of the audience are met

The goal of editing includes:

  • Ensuring proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar
  • Verifying adherence to formatting guidelines
  • Eliminating language errors
  • Checking for consistency in style and tone

Editing and Revision FAQ

Before I sign off, let's take a look at some common questions asked about editing and revision.

What Comes First, Revision or Editing?

Revision should occur before editing after the rough draft is complete. This gives the writer the opportunity to change the ideas, concepts, structure, and other big-picture aspects of the writing before it is closely looked over for more technical mistakes and errors.

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Does a Book Need Both Revision and Editing?

Revising and editing are both necessary processes if you want your book, article, blog post, or any other piece of writing to be error-free and well-written.

Luckily, the revision stage of the process is typically something that writers can do on their own. At the same time, it can be useful to have someone you trust take a look to help point out any issues, inconsistencies, or weak points that you couldn't see on your own.

Once you feel like your writing is in its final form from a conceptual, narrative, and organizational standpoint, now is the time for editing. If you start editing too early in the process, you can end up wasting time editing sections or sentences that don't even appear in the final draft.

Though you can edit your own work, it's usually best to incorporate someone else that has experience editing or is at least very familiar with spelling and grammar. It can be difficult to spot your own mistakes because you've likely read over the same passages time and time again, with your eye automatically correcting mistakes without you even consciously realizing it. Having another person do the editing can help point out errors that need to be fixed for your piece to come off as professional and polished.

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Should You Edit As You Write?

One thing you will often hear is that you should never edit as you're writing-- it should be a different stage in the process.

That being said, everyone writes differently, and it's worth playing around with various styles to help you determine what makes the most sense for you.

For example:

  • Some writers that create a fairly structured outline before beginning might choose to edit their writing from the previous day before they continue writing.
  • Others, however, like to keep more fluidity in freedom in the writing portion of their practice and wait until the final draft is complete before editing.

Are You Ready to Make Money Editing or Writing?

Understanding the difference between editing and revision is highly useful when you're working as a writer. Without some structure to your writing process, it can be hard to know when a piece is done. Creating a first draft and then revising it before editing is a straightforward and efficient way to create finished pieces that are free of errors and achieve their intent.

Whether you love to write or it's your dream to work as an editor, there are more opportunities now than ever before to make money from home as a freelancer.

Where can you find these gigs, you ask?

Head over to the Freelance Writing Jobs board today to find tons of posts from high-paying clients! Specifically designed to connect writers, editors, and other freelancers with clients, our job board is the first place you'll want to look online.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.

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