Editing versus revising. There are two types of editing, copy editing and content editing. And then there is revising. We start with copy editing.
Let’s say you use MSWord when you write. You complete a draft and then select Spelling and Grammar from the Tools link on the tool bar. The checking of spelling and grammar are primarily copy editing, and the results include word and character count, words per sentence, number of paragraphs, passive sentences (The flag was raised by the boys. versus. The boys raised the flag.), the grade level of the selection and the reading ease.
Similarly, you can use The Hemingway App which offers a similar analysis but with color coding. Kind of cute.
When we get to content editing, it ain’t quite so simple. Here’s a list comparing the two types of editing. Virtually anyone can copy-edit, but content editing takes, we suggest, some reading and writing experience and expertise. If a consensus of readers claims that a piece of writing does not grab their attention in the first five pages, they are laying a claim the content needs work. They have edited the content and found it lacking. That brings us to revising.
Let’s assume the critique group found a few grammar errors, which the author corrected, and then claimed that the opening of the piece does not get their attention. What’s the writer to do?
If he or she trust the group, then they may solicit suggestions on revising the introduction. They can then take or ignore the recommendations. But revising is not editing. Revising may mean deleting entire passages to improve what remains. If the selection deals with a protagonist’s coming of age, then perhaps the opening needs revision to show (not tell) the initial conflict the protagonist is under. Readers usually like conflict.
Our point is that revision usually requires re-writing and re-writing requires work. But if after a piece had been thoroughly edited and still does not get across the author’s message, then it is time to revise. It’s just the way it is. As Strunk and White wrote in The Elements of Style:
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.