copywriting and editing courses

The 3 Stages of Editing


In this Copywriting in Action® course insight post, I’m going to talk about the intimate relationship Copywriting has with the three types of editing: Structural Editing, Copy Editing and Proofreading.

Let’s begin by scrapping the misconception that “editing” and “proofreading” are one and the same. There are three stages to the editing process and they are, in order of procedure, as follows:

1] Structural Editing (the big picture edit as performed by a Structural Editor)

2] Copy Editing  (the line by line edit as performed by a Copy Editor)

3] Proofreading  (picking up any errors missed by the first two edits as performed by a Proofreader)

When it comes to copywriting, you’re performing all three tasks at roughly the same time. Most copywriting jobs don’t have the luxury of an editor, so, in effect, you’re multitasking as ideas writer plus editor (to the power of 3). In many ways, copywriting is a good training ground for editing. Of course, that’s only if you do a lot of long form copywriting (1000 words or more).  

However, editing is not a good training ground for copywriting. Editors are excellent at judging what works and what doesn’t, but this ability doesn’t easily translate into becoming great storytellers or idea writers.

The best of both these worlds is the copywriter’s oyster. Especially when you know that you’re doing the job of four professionals in their field of expertise — copywriting, structural editing, copy editing and proofreading.


During the first stage, you as the Structural Editor, look at the big picture. It all begins with the concept-in-progress — being mindful of tone, voice and focus. You then continue with order, narrative logic, balance, grammar, spelling, and punctuation of the overall copy (from introduction to transition 1 to substantiation to transition 2 to conclusion, according to the Anatomy of Body Copy). 

As the structural editor, you make decisions about the external structure (logical order of chapters and sections) and internal structures (narrative logic of paragraphs) with the following factors in mind: 

  • Focus/Premise/Key Message: (what is it really about? Is your premise relevant? Is it clearly defined or is it lost among marginal issues?)
  • Tone (mood: anything from serious to exciting; is the tone appropriate for the audience? Do you need to eliminate jargon? Is the text accessible?)
  • Voice (language: anything from formal to informal; who is doing the talking? Is the copy projecting the personality of the person, brand or community doing the talking?)
  • Order/Narrative Logic (order within order; chronological, thematic, sequential? Is the information organised logically? Are tables and illustrations used appropriately? How many levels of subheads do you need and how should they be arranged?)
  • Balance (Are all the necessary topics sufficiently dealt with? Are the chapters/sections weighted evenly? Is there any superfluous content that can go?
    Is there an even weight of chapters/sections?)
  • Exposition (are your arguments clear and convincing? Are they well researched and properly supported? Do they have a clear relationship with your premise?
  • Pace (Are there passages that are bogged down in detail? Do you spend too long on detail irrelevant to the main premise? Are there areas that need further exposition lest they be skipped over?)

Just like an accomplished copywriter, the structural editor is crystal clear about the who and the what of it all. They know who the target audience is, and make decisions accordingly. And they know what is the point; and focus on story within that frame.


In the second stage, you as the Copy Editor, look at the sentence by sentence development of story. The task involves maintaining a consistent tone, voice and focus already established by the Structural Editor. You then continue with doing any necessary rewriting of text to better communicate or clarify the point; and correcting grammar and punctuation along the way. 

Having said that, your primary focus is on the following 4 levels of intervention:

Text as Correct: Correcting mistakes in the text is the most minimal level of intervention. This involves dealing with clear (if often quite technical and not always obvious) errors. This requires the editor to have a high level of knowledge and skill, but it doesn’t involve much (if any) judgement on the part of the editor.

Text as Clear: Clarifying the meaning of the text involves more subtle interventions, such as nuances of punctuation, as well as larger interventions such as restructuring and/or rewording sentences. This involves greater editorial judgement than just “correcting” because the editor must move from the text as written to consider the author’s (you) intended meaning. Sometimes, the editor can be justifiably confident of the author’s intended meaning, but at other times, it’s necessary to query the author directly.

Text as Readable: Ensuring the text is readable goes a little further than ensuring that the text says what the author (you) means. It includes making sure that your reader can grasp that meaning without difficulty (the content may be inherently complex, but the expression should not compound this difficulty). As well as using judgment about the author’s intended meaning, you, the copy editor, need to be sensitive to the reader’s ability to comprehend it.

Text as Effective: An effective sentence brings an idea or image into clearer focus by adding useful details and numbers. Further editing might be justified to ensure that. This requires the editor to consider the author’s (you) broad intention (inform? entertain? educate? persuade?) as well as precision in meaning and expression of an idea or image. The editor must think about how and why the reader is reading. It is necessary to be proactive — you need to imagine and anticipate the reader’s response to each and every sentence.

Once every single sentence has been reviewed, revised and rewritten, you can take a nice long break before doing the next stage: proofreading. You need to get enough distance from your work to see itwith fresh eyes.   


Now that the pre-release draft is done, enter the Proofreader. This is where you tidy up and fix remaining errors missed by the Copy Editor. And of course the Copy Editor will miss grammatical errors because their focus is on clarity, readability and effectiveness above all else.

Depending on the length of the project, you will need to read the document several times to catch all the errors. 

Here are a few essential tips for fail-safe proofreading:

  • Leave adequate time between writing and proofreading
  • Read the document backwards so you can focus on the spelling of words
  • Check for one type of error at a time
  • Take lots of breaks so you don’t lose concentration
  • Use a ruler to check line by line
  • Proofread several time to catch anything you missed 
  • Read slowly so you don’t skip over words
  • Keep a list of common errors to look out for
  • Always check the headings and sub-headings
Having said all that, there’s always one error that gets away. But the fewer words there are in a project, the less of an excuse it is for the four of you.
Meanwhile, my online copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now. It’s one copywriting course that makes you a great copywriter and a reliable editor. For the full Structural & Copy Editing course, CAE is where you will find me teaching you.

Originally posted 2022-03-29 05:14:28.

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