Document Editing and Revision
Almost as important as the actual writing is the editing of the work. There are as many ways of looking at book editing or dissertation editing as there are writers. Some authors edit and revise only when the work is complete. Others write for a day and begin the next by carefully looking over the previous day’s endeavor. And, while some take on the entire practice themselves, most others work closely with an editor. Whatever your practice is, it’s best to remember what “revise” means: literally, it is “re-vision” or to “look again.”
In this, it is the role of the book editor or dissertation editor to play the part of the careful, supportive reader. As writers, we often feel very certain about what we say, convinced that our prose (or verse) is precisely what we want. However, we should also be aware that our readers are the ultimate judge of the success and rightness of what we say. This is not to say that we should write for our readers, but we should anticipate and listen carefully and this is where a good editor is invaluable.
In conversation, we know from our listeners how we are doing—we can see from body language or even questions whether or not our partner is following our train of thought. As writers, we don’t have this luxury, so we need to be sensitive to how our reader might respond. Editors are sounding boards, test readers who can provide exactly the kind of feedback writers are really looking for.
Typically, editors examine manuscripts on two different levels: local and global.
Local concerns are smaller, more easily fixable issues such as punctuation, format, or even continuity errors. Sometimes we can be prone to certain rhetorical structures—e.g., opening prepositional phrases—that can become distracting to a reader used to variety. We often overlook these even on revision, so a fresh pair of eyes is a definite advantage.
Global concerns are those that concern the entire work; these might include characterization, development, plot, description, or pacing. In other words, global concerns are those that affect the entire work and can affect how the reader responds to your work.
While a good editor will often do both at the same time, the more important one is the global perspective, for, fixing the indentation may improve the look, but if the characterization is uneven, there remains a great deal more work to do. Likewise, if one spends a lot of time fixing punctuation and then revises substantially for development and description, the local editing has to be done all over again.