Home > Strategies and Skill Development > Verbal Strategy Families > Line Editing > Literature Note - Line Editing

Surveying the literature on the varied processes involved in revision, editing, and proofing of texts, one is struck by a certain imprecision of terminology. The term revision is often used to cover almost any change to a text, from global, substantive changes to minor changes in spelling. Writing instructors certainly appreciate the difference, if only because they wish to refocus students on global revision strategies rather than on local editing (Faigley & Witte, 1981). But there is also a distinction to be made between editing focused on meaning—intended to precisely adjust sentence form and overall style to achieve particular effects—and purely local proofing of a text to conform to standard English conventions and the requirements of a stylesheet. In this model, therefore, we distinguish between the three cases: revision, focused on text macrostructure and achieving rhetorical purposes; line editing, focused on getting the sentences to carry exactly the right meaning and emphasis, given what they are intended to say by the author; and proofing, focused on conventional form and obeying prescriptive rules.

Of these three, line editing is the neglected child. Very little literature focuses directly on it from a cognitive, theoretical point of view, though it is a large concern to the professional writer, as Murray (1973) documented rather strikingly. And it is also a large part of the work of a professional editor, though not the sole concern, and much of Cook’s (1985) book, concerned with editing, in fact addressed line-editing issues. High levels of skill in writing may very well involve, in part, the ability to focus on line editing at certain stages of the writing process and separate it from other types of revision.

Cook, C. K. (1985). Line by line: How to edit your writing. Boston, MA: Modern Language Association.

Faigley, L., & Witte, S. (1981). Analyzing revision. College Composition and Communication, 32(4), 400-414.

Murray, D. (1973, October). The maker's eye: Revising your own manuscripts. The Writer, 14-16.

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