Guest post: Editing from an editor’s viewpoint by Alana Woods

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of editing is brought to you by thriller novelist, short story and non-fiction author, spotlightee and interviewee Alana Woods.

Editing from an editor’s viewpoint

I’ve been a professional editor for over 30 years. For most of that time I worked in various Australian public service departments, latterly as Director of Publishing at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

I’m no longer in full-time employment—haven’t been for about six years. Most of my time now is taken up with my own writing but I continue to contract edit, again for government departments because that’s where my clientele is. But I also occasionally edit manuscripts for authors.

I imagine what editors actually do may be a bit of a mystery to some.  I know you’re familiar with the general idea: picking up errors and making or suggesting changes to improve a document, but do you know the nitty gritty?  For those who don’t here’s a rundown.

There are three levels of editing.

1. Substantive edit. A substantive edit is the full box and dice. You scrutinise and fix everything: structure, content, language, style, readability, clarity and logic, spelling, punctuation and grammar. It includes applying styles to all text and generating automated tables of content.

Once in a while a full restructure or rewrite is necessary, but usually it entails a thorough edit and, if necessary, pointing out overall weaknesses the author should address and making suggestions about how to fix them.

2. Copy edit. This involves looking at consistency of language, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. It includes checking capitals and hyphenation consistency (hyphens, ems and en rules). For government and corporate jobs it also includes checking in-house style, references and glossaries, tables and graphs, heading levels and applying styles to all text and generating tables of content.

3. Proofread. This is exactly what it sounds like. A proofread is usually done after the document has been typeset and is ready to be printed. It’s the final check to make sure everything is okay. You make sure the formatting is correct and also check for overlooked typos.

However, with a copy edit and even proofreads, if I find something I think should be addressed I will make a note of it for the client without attempting to fix it.

I use tracked changes so the client can see exactly what I’ve done. It’s up to them to accept or reject my changes.

And now for the editor’s secret.

What is it?

It’s a one-on-one proofread.

This is instead of the single editor proofread.

It consists of one editor reading out loud from the final copy before it was typeset. The text obviously mirrors the text in the typeset document.

This read includes everything: capitals, paragraph breaks, widows/orphans, etc. It also includes formatting—by that I mean bold and italics, indents, justification, inter and intra paragraph spacing etc.

The second editor checks the typeset document against what is being read.

They both use rulers to focus on one line at a time.

It’s not usual with private jobs because only one editor is involved, but it is commonplace in departmental editing where there are several editors on the team, at least in the departments I worked in.

Try it. In my experience you find all sorts of discrepancies including spelling, punctuation and grammar typos.

That was great, thank you, Alana. My editor not only finds errors (fortunately not that many) but also comes up with some wonderful suggestions and it sounds like you love your ‘job’ too. 🙂

Alana’s family immigrated to Australia from the UK when she was four and bought land an hour south of Adelaide.  For the next 15 years she explored her way through school, the beach, roaming as far as her bike would take her in a day, and books. In 1966 she met John, married him the next year, and the year after had twins, Simone and Simon— Alana and John still get ribbed about that. Three years later Nicole joined the team—for a moment they thought she was twins too, and joke now that it would have been Nicole and Nicholas.  You can imagine the derision!

In 1980 they moved to Canberra to further their careers until 2004 when they moved to Queensland, spending five years there before moving back to Canberra because they missed their family. They also now spend time in the UK with Simone, her husband and two sons. Alana’s website is and you can read our interview and Alana’s spotlight.


If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with Jessica Chambers – the three hundred and forty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo.  My eBooks are now on Amazon, with more to follow, and I also have a quirky second-person viewpoint story in charity anthology Telling Tales

I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.

7 thoughts on “Guest post: Editing from an editor’s viewpoint by Alana Woods

  1. Alana Woods says:

    Morgen, once again thank you for allowing me to take part in your blog. I have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s gratifying to see the Likes and comments–they mean people are reading it!
    Alana Woods


  2. Sofia says:

    Alana, reading what you read is great advice, it helps me a lot, especially with spelling and punctiuation. Next time I edit, though, I might have someone read along and correct with me. 🙂


  3. morgenbailey says:

    It doesn’t matter how many times I go through my work (certainly the longer pieces) my brain will always read what it wants to read and what it knows I mean. Having someone (anyone, almost) read it without a clue of the intention behind it, will pick up something. I have an editor and three first readers (plus two critique writing groups) – I get different comments from each one. 🙂

    Thank you, Alana, for a really interesting post and for everyone who stopped by (50+), to those who clicked on the like, and a special “thank you” to Sofia for staying and commenting. 🙂


  4. Nicky Wells says:

    Fabulous post, and I love the idea of the one-on-one edit. My own experience mirrors closely what you described. When I was working in a professional capacity, we’d usually allocate all members of the team to proofing the blue-line together (in a three-hours lightning round) when it came back from the printer, just to make sure we found those last minute errors. It’s amazing what turns up! And writing, editing and proofing fiction… well, needless to say, I dread publication day simply because I know I’ll pick up the book and find **something**, even if it’s just a misplaced em dash or a missing comma. Thanks for this peek behind the scenes, great insights!


    • Alana Woods says:

      Nicky, I know what you mean. Even after those one-on-one proofreads we used to open a new publication with trepidation. Usually we’d done a thorough job but once in a while, just once in a while, someone would see a typo on the first page they looked at. Or someone in the organisation would ring and say they’d found an error — and want to know what the prize was for being the first to spot it. Not too bad when a five person team is putting out hundreds of publications a year, but even so you can imagine the angst!!!


      • Nicky Wells says:

        100 per cent! When our research books used to come back from the printer, I used to want to run and hide. I used to force myself to open them and flick through, pain! Usually it was all good, after all our hard work, but… I remember presenting my pride-and-joy book at a conference once and spotting a type there and then that nobody had seen before (obviously). That red hot poker sensation in my tummy! And how to keep presenting while skirting elegantly around this now blatantly obvious typo on the page shouting, see me, see me! But do you know what; such is life, and in a document of 70K, or even 100K words, you’re never going to find everything. Is that defeatist, I wonder?


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