Which kind of editor are you?

If you were publishing a book instead of writing a brief, here are some of the editors who might have a hand in improving the first draft:

Developmental editor: helps to plan the document from its first conception, focusing on themes and organization.

Substantive editor: focuses on the effectiveness of the writing at conveying its intended themes, and particularly the order of presentation.

Fact checker: ensures that statements of fact are correct and appropriately cited.

Copy editor: corrects grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, and ensures consistency in word usage.

Line editor: focuses on the flow of the text from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph, on effective use of language and clarity of the writing.

Design editor: focuses on the look of the document, making sure that formatting, typography, and use of white space are effective and compelling. The design editor will also make sure the document follows any typographical rules that may apply.

Proof editor/proofreader: checks for typographical and similar errors introduced in the late stages of review.

The definitions of some of these kinds of editing vary depending on your source, and some people combine two or more of these functions (copy and line editors are often one and the same, for example). The point for you to consider, though, is that nobody in the business of turning out professional prose would consider going to the presses with something that has been edited in one pass by one person. That is because few people have the skills to be effective in all of these areas, and nobody has the skills to do them all at once.

Think about that the next time you’re handed a draft of an important brief, and you pick up a red pen and start reading, looking for typos, arguments that don’t make sense, and assertions that don’t seem to follow from the legal authorities cited. Or grammar errors, inconsistencies in capitalization in the titles, block citations that are too long, and confusing footnotes. Or run-on sentences, ugly legalese, and awkward analogies.

You get the idea. Nobody can do a good job finding errors of many different types and at several different levels at once. Nobody in the publishing business would ever try. But lawyers do it every day.

What can you do about it? This whole blog exists to answer that question.

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Continuing the Discussion

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