How Deep Editing Can Take Your Professional Documents to the Next Level

When prospective clients first approach me for editing, they think they need an editor to review their documents for proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency. Sometimes that is exactly what they need, but we often uncover bigger challenges during the needs assessment — like problems with structure, presentation, and logic.

Deep editing goes by various names: structural editing, substantive editing, developmental editing, content editing, and likely some other names I don’t know. In this post, I’ll refer to it as deep editing. This type of editing goes beyond reviewing a piece for grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and consistency.

What I Listen For

My clients run small professional services businesses — often one-person operations — and the types of documents they write and deliver include reports, proposals, white papers, and instruction manuals.

Small professional services businesses lack the people power and resources larger firms have, yet they still need to deliver clear, concise writing that showcases their expertise and has a consistent brand voice. That’s a bigger task than many people realize. Sloppy, inconsistent writing that fails to advocate for the reader could damage their credibility.

When I hear a potential client say the following things, I know they likely need deep editing in addition to copyediting:

  • I’m too close to the work to see the gaps. If the reader has to work to connect the dots, they’ll be confused or lose interest. Every document should be written with the reader in mind, at a level they will easily understand.
  • I write like I talk. Although I encourage clients to write in a style that sounds natural, if they tell me they write like they talk, it often means their writing is overly wordy and repetitive, which can obscure their message.
  • Several people contributed to writing this. This likely means an editor needs to rework the text so it has a unified voice and style.

What Does Deep Editing Entail?

A deep edit often involves rewriting chunks of text and possibly reorganizing it for better flow and coherence. Flexibility and balance are key to getting this right: The editor’s rewrites should make the writing clearer and more concise while maintaining the author’s voice and intended meaning. This requires mutual trust and respect between the author and the editor. The editor should keep an open dialogue with the author and ask for feedback regularly to make sure they’re on the right track.

My Approach to Deep Editing

When I do a deep edit, I check for the following:

  1. Does the piece advocate for the reader? The first step is working with the client to understand who their target audience is and ensuring the writing will resonate with that audience.
  2. Is the piece well organized and coherent? Does it fulfill its intended purpose? The style, presentation, structure, and amount of information included in the piece are all taken into account in this step. Because authors are often too close to their writing to see gaps, I will make sure the writing has a logical progression and flow and will flag or fill in any gaps in logic.
  3. Is the piece written with a consistent brand voice? In this step, I ensure the writing complies with the company’s writing standards and — especially if two or more people contributed to the piece — that it has a unified voice and tone.
  4. Is the piece overly wordy or too complex? I will eliminate redundant and repetitive phrases and minimize use of jargon, which can all detract from your message and potentially confuse the reader.
  5. Are figures and tables used appropriately? Figures and tables are visual elements used to display detailed data and clarify information for the reader. I will ensure that information in the tables and figures is relevant and clear and will flag or query discrepancies between table and figure data and the accompanying text.

Anything you write on behalf of your business is part of your brand image. If your documents fall short in any of the five areas above, work with an editor who can help whip them into shape so you can deliver top-quality writing that puts you and your business in the best light.